Martin Parsons: The politically explosive small print in the Climate Change Committee’s report on sea defence

Destroying coastal barriers to “create a new habitat area” would mean leaving our seaside towns and villages to be flooded. People must come first.

Dr Martin Parsons is a former aid worker in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has a PhD in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations.

At the end of October the government’s Climate Change Committee published its report on how the UK should respond to sea level rise. Not terribly interested? – well you should be because the small print in this report is political dynamite for some of the most disadvantaged communities, who guess what – overwhelmingly voted for Brexit and include a significant proportion of the marginal seats Conservatives need to hold to win the next election.

The purpose of this article is not take issue with the science – it’s what the report recommends the government does that is so politically toxic. The science is fairly straightforward – sea level has risen by around 15 cm since 1900 (actually if you live south of a line from Middlesbrough to Liverpool it’s probably more due to land sinking relative to the sea). At current rates it is likely to rise by a further 50 cm and possibly 80 cm by 2100 i.e. within the lifetime of children living today.

That means that storm surges will overtop existing sea defences more frequently – and the biggest surges will inundate much bigger areas of land. At the moment around half a million properties, including 370,000 homes are vulnerable to flooding. The report estimates this will increase to 1.2 million homes by 2080.

Higher sea levels also increase coastal erosion and the report estimates the number of homes vulnerable to erosion will increase from 8,900 to 100,000 over the same period.

So what does the report suggest we do about it? Well some infrastructure will need to be relocated – including some roads, railway lines and even three railway stations. Once they get damaged by storm surges on more than a couple of occasions it becomes more economic to move them than repair them.

However, the really politically toxic bit of the report deals with coastal communities. It says, because major urban areas and infrastructure will require better sea defences – and there is only so much money available, that is where money should be spent. However, for coastal communities in towns and villages – it is worse than that. The report recommends that 149-185 km of coast which is currently designated as ‘hold the line’ in shoreline management plans should be redesignated as ‘managed retreat’.

Let me explain what that means. Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) designate each part of the coast as one of four categories:

  • Advance the line (never used – although significant parts of the coast were reclaimed from the sea by previous generations)
  • Hold the Line (i.e. protect the existing shoreline)
  • No Active intervention (i.e. do nothing – including not repairing any existing sea defences)
  • Managed Realignment (also known as ‘managed retreat’ – deliberately breaching existing sea defences, for example, to allow farmland to be turned into salt marsh)

In other words, the report recommends not simply saving money by not repairing sea defences, but deliberately breaching them. The justification it offers for this is twofold:

“It has advantages in removing long-term financial commitments to maintain defences and in restoring natural environments and processes. Managed realignment can create new habitat area that acts as a natural buffer to coastal waves and is much cheaper to maintain over the long-term.”

However, the advantages it talks of are clearly not for the local community who sea defences are supposed to “defend”. The advantages are in reducing the cost to the Treasury and creating “new habitat”.

Yet the cost to the local community is extraordinarily high. The report gives as an example of the sort of strategy they envisage, a village in Wales of 1,000 people. Despite a consultation having been done on the latest SMP, most of the residents were shocked to discover somewhat later that their village would only be protected until 2025 which would be followed by a period of working towards ‘decommissioning’ the village in 2055.

Can you imagine what that does to a whole community?

It’s far worse than planning blight – at least then there is the possibility of compensation from a compulsory purchase order. However, with ‘decommissioning’ a village to prepare for managed retreat – every house becomes valueless, unsaleable – and there is absolutely no compensation. That’s right – no compensation – if your land becomes part of the seabed you lose everything and no one pays you anything. And your mortgage – well yes you could default on it and let the building society pick up the tab. But if you do then don’t expect to ever get another mortgage. This is a huge social justice issue.

Think it won’t happen? Well – here’s the sting in the tail – the Climate Change Committee’s report laments the fact that:

“Even the modest amount of managed realignment envisaged in the SMPs is not being implemented at the rate set out in the plans.”

To address this it then immediately calls for Shoreline Management Plans to be placed on a statutory basis so that the plans have to be implemented. That means that if the SMP places your village under managed retreat then the Environment Agency would have a legal duty to breach the sea defences and flood it. The report suggests the current environment and agriculture legislation be amended to do this.

Even aside from the massive social injustice this represents let me spell out why else the government should categorically reject these recommendations:

  1. The report itself admits that ‘Many coastal communities are particularly vulnerable because populations in coastal areas are often poorer and older than the UK average.’ Despite this, it effectively recommends removing funding for sea defence repairs from them in order to spend it on large urban areas, which already get more public spending per person.
  2. It justifies this by claiming it will reduce costs and ‘create habitats’. I’m sorry but we’ve been here before – one of the reasons villages in the Somerset Levels remained cut off by floods for a month in 2014 was because the Environment Agency had prioritised nature conservation and so kept the water levels artificially high and not dredged the rivers. Like most Conservatives I am a natural conservationist – but people come first.
  3. The report’s recommendations significantly increase vulnerability to flooding.  This is despite the report itself admitting that coastal flooding will increase to 1.2 million homes by 2080 and that of all natural disasters coastal flooding claims more lives than almost any other event and in the UK there is a long history of coastal floods leading to many deaths.

While breaching sea walls – which is what managed retreat means – may create salt marsh which could act as a temporary buffer to coastal erosion, it also removes significant protection against the much higher risk of coastal flooding. Replacing a 2m sea wall with a ‘sea level’ salt marsh significantly reduces existing flood protection – at a time when sea levels are rising. This itself reveals the ideological bias of the report which purports to be a response to rising sea levels.

However, this is also a politically toxic issue because so much comes down to money. The report actually says that if the government paid for all the existing sea defences (i.e. hold the line) in shoreline management plans at today’s prices – it would cost between £6.9 and 9.2 billion.

Now try telling those seaside towns and villages, a great many of which are marginal constituencies, that they can’t have that money and that some of their villages are even going to be ‘decommissioned’. While at the same time telling these coastal communities most of which voted Brexit – that we are talking about whether to give four or five times that amount of money to the EU in exchange for what may be little more than the promise of talks about a future trade deal. That’s not just toxic – it’s politically explosive for any government…

Desmond Swayne: Weaning parents off disposable nappies

We must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice.

Sir Desmond Swayne is a former International Development Minister, and is MP for New Forest West.

The message from the Budget is clear: consumers have made their views known on plastic packaging. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s empower people to cut down on other single-use plastics to benefit the environment, reduce waste and emissions in our over-stretched waste systems, and support household finances.

Both Defra and the Treasury have spent considerable departmental time and resource exploring how to influence consumer and industry behaviour when it comes to cutting plastic consumption, and rightly so.  For now, Philip Hammond says he is content to rely on industry to drive plastic use down rather than resort to taxation. Industry, especially hospitality and independent food retailers, have taken proactive steps over the last twelve months. I’m pleased to see that extraneous packaging has been banished from the majority of fruit and veg in our supermarkets, and plastic straws have been replaced by waxy paper ones in pubs and bars across the country.

But this is only the start. With a recent UN study finding that we have only twelve years to prevent irreversible damage to the climate, people are only now realising it is their own responsibility to limit their impact on the planet – and that they must do this by making real changes to their daily routine.

The good news is that changes can be made quickly and to good effect – and this is why I was pleased to see the subject of reusable nappies being raised by Michael Gove at Party Conference this year. We’ve targeted straws, cotton buds, balloon sticks and shrink-wrap. Disposables, which currently make up four to six per cent of household waste, are the obvious next step.

The average baby uses 4000 nappies up to potty training, the majority of which will go to landfill: eight million of them every day in the UK alone. As well as taking up a large proportion of limited landfill space and putting significant pressure on our waste-collection services, disposable nappies typically contain around 30 per cent plastic material which can end up polluting land or water resources.

Whilst it would not be a very Conservative measure to ban disposables, especially given the other pressures young families have to contend with, we must look at the benefits that reusable nappies can offer, and promote greater awareness so that people can make an informed choice. The time is right for Government to support this with practical and effective policy. Defra is consulting about how to end the use of single-life plastic straws and plastic-handled cotton buds which is important.

But it should also address two aspects of the use of disposable nappies. First, it should consider how to ensure that the plastics used in disposable nappies are as biodegradable and as harmless to the environment as possible. I understand that is something manufacturers are considering, but the development of a realistic disposable recycling system is still at a nascent stage.

Second, we need to look at how to share adequate information with consumers to enable them to make informed decisions – particularly about the impact that disposable nappies will have on the environment, even when they are responsibly removed to landfill. How long do disposable nappies take to biodegrade? What are the products of that process and what are their effects on the environment? What happens to nappies that are not responsibly disposed of, but end up in our watercourses and seas?

Parents should also know how modern reusable nappies work. I understand that nowadays reusables are light-weight and easy to wash – far removed from the heavy terry towelling models of days gone by. This is information that new parents could receive when they are given their Bounty packs during maternity care. Most importantly, parents need to know that it doesn’t have to be a case of all or nothing. An Environment Agency study found that, if parents swap to just one reusable a day, they can save using 800 nappies over the first 2-3 years of a child’s life, and make significant reductions to their own carbon footprint, not to mention savings to the household purse.

The Government has a tremendous opportunity here: better information for consumers; more biodegradable and safer plastics; less plastic going to landfill; reducing the emissions created through waste management; and a burnishing of the government’s green credentials. This policy initiative would be entirely consistent with the Environment Secretary’s record of green pragmatism and with his determination to make a difference to our environment; a small but impactful step that chimes with the growing traction of consumer responsibility.

Eamonn Ives: No, Brexit will not threaten all creatures great and small

In certain respects, the UK’s leaving of the EU could reap animal welfare benefits on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

Eamonn Ives is a researcher at Bright Blue.

In case you hadn’t yet noticed, the United Kingdom is currently negotiating its leaving of the European Union. Whilst we do not know exactly where the country will end up after the 29th March next year, it is almost certain that Westminster will have the opportunity to legislate on policy issues which for decades it has offshored to Brussels. Nowhere is this more apparent than with respect to environmental law – of which roughly four-fifths stem from the EU.

This has, reasonably enough, put the proverbial cat amongst the metaphorical pigeons of the environmental lobby. Notwithstanding the fact that just about all of them lament Brexit, it is unsurprising that they regard the country’s vote to leave as a threat to existing standards. When anything could happen, expecting the worst might be an instinctive response. One area in particular which has attracted a considerable amount of attention is that of animal welfare regulation.

Such anxieties are, at the very least, understandable. One cannot deny that there exists a contingent of Brexit supporters – some of whom wield significant political clout – who would happily see current welfare standards watered down. However, I also believe that those fears are somewhat misplaced and overblown, and that in certain respects, the UK’s leaving of the EU could reap animal welfare benefits on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

One of the most exciting aspects of Brexit is the fact that it allows the UK to do away with divisive and much bemoaned Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This byzantine framework for awarding public money to farmers and land-owners based largely upon nothing more than the amount of land they manage has a whole host of drawbacks – none less so than the consequences many, Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike, believe it has had for British biodiversity.

Mercifully, the Government has committed to replacing the CAP. In a move inspired by a report published by Bright Blue last year, future payments look set to be made to recipients for the public goods they deliver. Importantly, things which increase animal welfare (such as measures which reduce antimicrobial resistance – a threat to animals and humans alike) were singled out by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, as a possible public good which could be rewarded under the CAP’s successor. Thus, the policy rethink which Brexit fundamentally symbolises, played out in this instance as the re-evaluation of funding priorities, could easily lead to improved animal welfare in Britain.

But potential animal welfare gains triggered by changes to agricultural policy do not stop there. If one considers where the majority of animal welfare abuse occurs, an obvious starting point would be with animals which are reared for their meat. Whilst this is not to tar every livestock farmer with the same brush, examples of animal abuse in the industry are undeniable, and are now frequently appearing in the national media as reporting improves.

And yet, society is today closer than ever before to being in a position where it could virtually eliminate all such suffering. Cultured meat, more commonly known as lab-grown meat, has, of late, made great leaps forward in terms of its commercial viability. The costs associated with producing it have fallen exponentially: one start-up which was producing cultured meat at $325,000 per burger in 2013, had it down to a mere $11 just two years later. Venture capitalists and philanthropists are flocking to invest in cultured meat, with industry figures believing it can become cost competitive in just a couple of years’ time.

So where does Brexit play into this? Unfortunately, the EU gives me little reason to think that it will embrace this potentially game-changing technology with the open arms anyone who is interested in animal welfare (and indeed climate change, biodiversity, and much more else besides) might wish it would. The EU’s long-standing opposition to genetic modification, and more recent hostility towards the much less controversial ‘gene editing’, means that one can be forgiven for being pessimistic about the EU forgoing the hyper-precautionary mindset which it has displayed in the past.

Furthermore, given that we know how successful the farming lobby has been in capturing the EU (at its peak, 71 per cent of the EU’s total budget funded the CAP), there is again good reason to believe it could act as a formidable stumbling block to the EU affording cultured meat a favourable regulatory regime. Already, the European farming lobby has mobilised the European Court of Justice to ban plant-based alternatives from using ‘dairy style’ naming words for cheese and milk substitutes: what’s not to say they won’t do the same for cultured meat?

For the arguments expressed above, I believe that the UK’s leaving of the EU does not jeopardise animal welfare – far from it. Brexit gives the UK a golden opportunity to rethink the frameworks which underpin agricultural and countryside management, to the betterment of animal welfare. It also permits the Government to prevent some of the most flagrant examples animal abuse.

Finally, whilst admittedly unclear at present, if we do indeed witness the same proclivity from the EU to regulate against the innovation of cultured meat as demonstrated with respect to gene editing and genetic modification, being outside of that regime can only be positive for animal welfare.

Greg Hammond: Freedom for disruptive technologies v the need for peace and quiet

Clumsy bans are not the answer – but local rules do need to be adapted to cope with Uber, Deliveroo and Airbnb.

Cllr Greg Hammond is a councillor for Courtfield Ward in Kensington and Chelsea.

“This generation are Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating freedom fighters”, says Liz Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury. And she is right that disruptive technologies are delivering consumers new opportunities for services at lower prices than conventional taxis, hotels and restaurants. Such new freedoms are welcome, and are particularly taken for granted by the young generation that does not remember the restricted choices of the pre-smartphone age. Yet are these new technologies an unalloyed good?

In my ward and its neighbours in South Kensington, in addition to enjoying the benefits of Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo, our residents have been experiencing some unintended second – and third – order consequences of these disruptive technologies.

Uber drivers have found hitherto quiet residential streets in which to hold while awaiting a call-forward for a fare. In some cases, unwilling to pay for parking and with no designated rest areas, drivers are discarding on the curbsides litter from hastily-eaten meals and even drinks bottles re-used for urine. Of course not every Uber driver is guilty of such anti-social behaviour, but as a minimum residents’ parking bays are blocked and extra traffic created in certain hotspots.

Short-term holiday letting is also proving to be much more lucrative than traditional residential letting. Although Airbnb and similar sites apply a maximum limit of 90 days’ letting per year, it is easy for unscrupulous landlords to register with more than one site and let all year round. Instead of being just a means of making some occasional money from a spare room, there are now short-term letting businesses with multiple properties. Indeed there are some entire town houses containing nothing but short-term letting flats. The consequences are hollowed-out communities, a reduced supply of properties for those who want to live in the area, rubbish left out in the streets on the wrong days by people who are not invested in the local community, and increased instances of noisy parties at anti-social hours on what are working days for local residents.

Deliveroo (and Uber-eats) riders meanwhile are congregating near the restaurants whose products they are going to deliver. Increasingly using noisy scooters rather than relatively benign bicycles, large numbers of riders are positioned at peak times near the restaurants. An example of this problem was in an echoey residential mews which also happens to contain the service entrance to a local branch of Nando’s.

So what is to be done?

The answer is certainly not Labour’s instinctive opposition to new ideas that threaten existing vested interests: the type of reaction that was recently demonstrated by Sadiq Khan’s clumsy attempt to ban Uber in London. This is the kind Luddite approach that would still see our cloth made on the Spinning Jenny and steam locomotives on the railways. Something much more nuanced is required.

In Kensington & Chelsea we are having some small successes in addressing these problems. My Ward colleague worked with parking enforcement and an engaged group of residents to address the problem of Uber drivers holding in one particular hotspot. I organised a meeting on site with Deliveroo’s head of public affairs to show her the problem in the mews. Pleasingly, she was proactive in following up by explaining the problems to the riders and setting up a direct email address for residents’ complaints. As councillors, meanwhile, we have encouraged the Council to increase parking restrictions in that mews, but have accepted that the Deliveroo riders have to go somewhere and that the already-busy commercial street is the place. In both cases the problems have been mitigated in the particular hotspots, though these are microcosms of the problem as a whole.

On short-term holiday letting, last year our relevant scrutiny committees launched a proper study into a problem that had been identified by councillors but had hitherto been completely overlooked as an issue by council officers. The study identified that only a quarter of the short-term holiday lettings in our borough were for the classic ‘spare room’, whereas three-quarters were full dwellings and therefore probably primarily business enterprises. The recommended solutions in many cases would require primary legislation. Suggestions included the creation of a mandatory licensing system and registration with the local authority to facilitate enforcement actions against breaches of, for example, the 90-day limit. A more ‘joined-up’ approach to enforcement between different council departments was also proposed.

The actions described are all tentative first steps, and in some cases are hyper-localised. It would be wrong to squash the new freedoms and opportunities offered by disruptive technologies or to give in to vested interests. But we also need to protect our residents from new threats to the quiet enjoyment of their homes and neighbourhoods. Where does the balance lie? There are no easy answers. Constructive suggestions in the comment area would be a useful contribution to the debate.

Robert Halfon: How the patronising metropolitan elites wrinkled up their noses at more money for potholes

Plus: Unsung Conservative heroes. The Centre for Rocket Studies. And: why do we need the traditional, three-year University course?

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Workers Budget

Credit where credit is due, the Budget last week was exactly what was needed. Tax cuts for the lower paid, increases in the Living Wage, a fuel duty freeze, and more money for our NHS.  It was astonishing how the metropolitan classes sniffed at the £420 million for potholes – one journalist argued that it was wrong given the threat to our environment. Given that our town and road infrastructure is riven with potholes, and how small white van businesses and motorists depend on good roads, it was so typical of the anti-car brigade to be so aloof from day-to-day realities.

I welcomed the £200 million for vulnerable youths and the £400 million more for education capital spending – though much more is needed; ideally, a Ten Year Plan, similar to the NHS, if education is not going to become our Achilles heel.  It is vital that the Spending Round next year, sets out the a long term education plan, to ensure our schools and colleges are properly funded and fit for the 21st Century and the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We need less initiative-itis on education, with a bit of funding tinkering here and there, and a much more strategic view on what education policy and funding should be.

Unsung Heroes

The Conservative Party is full of unsung heroes and one of those is Nonie Bouverat, who most of this site’s readers will have never heard of.  Mrs Bouverat is Chief Executive Officer of the Conservative Foundation, one of whose primary tasks is to raise funds to provide low income parliamentary candidates with bursaries.

This is something I have fought for a long time, and was delighted when Lord Feldman made an initial announcement about this at the 2015 Party Conference.  The website of the Conservative Foundation does not even mention Bouverat, yet it is she who has done so much to get this bursary scheme off the ground.

If the bursary scheme was developed to include supporting councillors and Party members, we could help ensure that low-income members could get a fair deal when they got involved in the Party, especially when standing for elections or travelling to events. Hats off to Bouverat and the Foundation. I hope it goes from strength to strength.

Centre for Rocket Studies

What has happened to the Centre for Policy Studies?  Under its remarkable new director, Robert Colvile, you rarely read a newspaper without hearing about the latest work of the CPS.  Though big under Margaret Thatcher, the CPS later had a few lean years, but now seems to be having a rocket-boosted resurgence, with policy pamphlets a plenty, alongside the great CapX online newspaper promoting Capitalism.

Their latest report, launched by the Prime Minister earlier this week, proposed a £1,000 a month ‘Universal Income’ to raise wages for the lower paid, and a Work Guarantee to ensure that everyone keeps 51p in every extra £1 they earn, partly bu cutting the Universal Credit Taper rate.  Alongside Tory Workers, the CPS are carving out a Conservative-minded, pro-Workers agenda. All power to the CPS-ers!

Universities and value for money

My Education Select Committee published a report this week in which we noted that 49 per cent of graduates are not in graduate jobs.  We need a rethink of Higher Education – more focused on graduate outcomes, more committed to skills and vocational education, and more devoted to really giving the disadvantaged a chance to climb the Higher Education Ladder of Opportunity.

Re-introducing means-tested maintenance grants would help, as well as more Degree Apprenticeships, as these students earn whilst they learn. The number of part-time students has declined by half over the past few years, so why not introduce flexible learning, by which students can hop on and off courses and build up credits? Why do we need the traditional, rigid three year structure?  Of course, excessive Vice Chancellor pay should be curtailed too. That must be a job for the new Office for Students.

1922 Drama (not)

I read every weekend in the Sunday newspapers that the end of the Tory world is nigh.  A week or so ago, we were told by the media that the 1922 meeting with Theresa May would take on the role of some show-trial court of the Prime Minister, with a ‘noose’ in the offing, and the distinguished Sir Graham Brady acting out the role of Judge Roland Freisler.

So I arrived at the meeting on my electronic Segway Rollerscoot (it is always a long walk otherwise to Committee Room 14) expecting great drama.  Many journalists were outside in Commons Committee Corridor with pens and pads – a bit like the old ladies with their knitting needles waiting around the French Revolution’s guillotines for the next execution.

As it happened, it was a good-natured affair, with Theresa May being quite frank about her views (whether you agreed with them or not). Sir Graham was more Rumpole of the Bailey than Roland, as MPs were called to give their views on the EU.  As I left this most august occasion, journos asked me what I thought. I could only reply, that the Prime Minister was ‘honest’.

Brexit will allow us to write a tailor-made agriculture policy to improve animal welfare and our environment

When I took up my post as the RSPCA’s Chief Executive in August, one of the first documents in my in-tray was a briefing about how Brexit will affect animal welfare. I suspect for many people, they have never simply thought about how Brexit impacts animal welfare. When asked, 80% of the public said they […]

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When I took up my post as the RSPCA’s Chief Executive in August, one of the first documents in my in-tray was a briefing about how Brexit will affect animal welfare. I suspect for many people, they have never simply thought about how Brexit impacts animal welfare. When asked, 80% of the public said they do not want to see welfare standards watered down.

But with 80% of our welfare laws made in Brussels, of course Brexit hugely impacts animal welfare. And for no animals is this more true than for farm animals.

Brexit is the defining event for farming and farm animals in the UK in a generation. Last month MPs debated the Government’s suggested independent agriculture policy. Amazingly this was the first debate on agriculture policy since 1947, before many of the current intake of MPs were even born, although one MP followed his grandfather in discussing the policy. Since 1973, it’s been the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that has defined British farming.

No matter how you voted, we can all agree that the CAP has not delivered the best outcomes for British farmers and farm animals. Why? Because as its name suggests, it is common to 28 countries but is not specific to any of them. It remains a policy that spends 80% of its money – your money – solely on ownership of land. The more land you own, the more money you get. You are not even expected to produce much, and only have to comply with the baseline legal standards.

The CAP has certainly not delivered animal welfare in the UK. Although funding for animal welfare has been around since 2007, budgets are tiny: 0.5%. In England, no funding has ever been provided for animal welfare schemes. It’s not surprising that in England the CAP has resulted in negative impacts on both the environment and animal welfare. By failing to support higher welfare systems it creates conditions allowing more intensive, lower welfare farming methods to flourish.

Brexit allows us to move away from this approach, tailor our own agricultural policy based on our own world-leading animal welfare standards and properly recognise and encourage British farmers who want to follow better systems for their animals.

The Government’s new approach to farming, set out in the Agriculture Bill, is a system based on public money for public goods; public goods which crucially include animal welfare. A first, big step forward. In some areas, British farmers already farm to some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world, but in others they have fallen behind. They need a leg up to make improvements to their farms to deliver higher standards of animal welfare.

They also need the consumer to know this which is why we support – and the Government are looking at – mandatory labelling of how our chicken or beef got to our plates. We know this works. Mandatory egg labelling has made a huge difference to the numbers of free range eggs as consumers vote with their wallets.

We can do so much more. Brexit also provides us the opportunity to deliver this on a wide range of issues, including banning live animal exports, improving how we slaughter farm animals and reducing the times taken to transport animals from the farm to the slaughterhouse. No longer will our hands be tied by European rules. I hope that the Government is prepared to seize this opportunity with both hands. The signs are good so far that they are.

However, Brexit is not all sunlit uplands for British farmers and their animals. It will only work if we ensure we are not undercut by cheaper imports produced from less humane standards – in other words we need to keep our high standards, not lose them to other countries. The great unknown that is our future trading relationship with the rest of the world. As we approach B-Day it is absolutely essential that any future trade deals the UK strikes keep our standards intact by not allowing cheap, less humane imports to undercut our farmers. We must approach trade deals with the same standards we enforce domestically. We must ensure that these trade deals have language in them relating to animal welfare. We cannot allow the drive to become an international trading nation to undermine our animal welfare standards and threaten the livelihoods of British farmers. And it’s not just us saying this. Voices from across British agriculture – including the NFU – agree.

It’s been heartening to hear ministers from across Government commit to protect our animal welfare standards as we leave the EU. They must now deliver on these excellent intentions. High welfare standards will be an integral part of the appeal of British food and vital to the British competitive farming. The animals, farmers and consumers alike demand it.

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Laura Sandys: We should support the “Heineken” of decarbonisation – Carbon Capture reaches parts that other technologies can’t reach.

Britain has a proud environmental record. Here is another opportunity to lead the world.

Laura Sandys is a member of the Commission on the Future of Localism and a Vice-President of Civic Voice.

We should commend ourselves that Conservatives have been at the forefront of the global endeavour to combat climate change and our achievements have not been insignificant. Since 2010, a Conservative-led Government signed the Paris Agreement, became the first major economy to commit to phasing out coal and has overseen a remarkable decarbonisation of the power sector. Electricity generated from clean sources is 50 per cent today, up from 19 per cent at the beginning of the decade.

We as Conservatives can rightfully be proud of this record.

However we must not kid ourselves that while we have been successful in addressing the decarbonisation of electricity, we now face some even tougher decisions.  Power decarbonisation is just one piece of the policy puzzle. The heavy lifting is just about to start as we now have to address the decarbonisation of heat, industry, transport and agriculture.

These decisions are not just difficult but time sensitive as the recently published UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report starkly states.  If we don’t move faster and deeper into our carbon-reliant economy and limit warming to 1.5 degrees, we are facing an unsustainable future for most of our communities.

To decarbonise those hard to reach parts of the economy there are limited few options available. Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage Technologies (CCUS) is the most promising option to unlock decarbonisation by removing and then using or storing carbon dioxide before it is emitted into the atmosphere. In addition, the UK is uniquely placed to exploit this technology with the North Sea infrastructure, skills from our offshore oil and gas sector and using the existing pipelines from land to store already in place.  As well as bringing obvious environmental benefits, this is also a huge economic opportunity to establish a world-leading industry in the UK and ensure our industrial heartlands remain relevant for decades to come.

As the Heineken of decarbonisation, CCUS can help decarbonise heavy industry, produce low carbon hydrogen to decarbonise heating and transport, as well as support negative emission technologies when integrated with bio-energy generation. Other low carbon technologies cannot do this.

Again Conservatives have taken a leadership role through Energy Minister Claire Perry’s commissioning of a Cost Challenge Taskforce to establish a pathway to exploit CCUS. The report identified five areas ideally suited to clustering CCUS. Teesside, Yorkshire & the Humber, the North West, Scotland and South Wales have closely located power and industrial facilities and access to offshore storage. This industrial clustering is key to driving cost reductions and maximising the full value of the technology.

CCUS now needs a clear policy signal from Government, but one that recognises the unique economic and environmental value that the technology brings to the whole economy, not just the power sector.

Claire Perry has done a terrific job of building confidence in the industry over the past year. Committing to developing at least two regional clusters in the Government’s CCUS Deployment Pathway, would continue the Conservatives proud tradition of global green leadership and nurturing competitive, low carbon industries.  All done while also protecting our industrial base and supporting our regional Industrial Strategy.

Three decades after Thatcher’s Conservative Governments supported the formation of the IPCC, we should heed their latest warnings and support technologies that go where none have gone before..

Howard Flight: The best part of a week on, we can see that last week’s Budget was a popular one

The Chancellor has been fortunate that the public finances have improved substantially at a particularly convenient time.

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Philip Hammond has been fortunate that the public finances have improved substantially at a particularly convenient time. Economic growth has been revised up next year to 1.6 per cent; employment has been revised up, with 800,000 more jobs than forecast in 2023; wages will rise above inflation for the next five years.

The borrowing target has been met three years early, with the deficit now down to 1.9 per cent of GDP. The debt target has also been met three years early at a peak of 85 per cent of GDP. Borrowing is £11.6 billion lower than forecast at 1.2 per cent of GDP. This has improved significantly the scope of what the Budget can seek to address.

Overall public spending will increase by 1.2 per cent per annum, between 0.2 per cent and 0.4 per cent less than forecast growth. The improved tax yields have enabled the Prime Minister’s NHS commitment to be fully funded.

The Chancellor presented a pragmatic “micro” Budget, seeking to address virtually all of the issues which came up as needing attention. Yet perhaps its most important ingredient was a significant cut in taxation for the majority next April – increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate to £50,000 a year.

Local Authorities are getting an extra £1 billion of funding and business rates for retailers with rateable values below £51,000, will be cut by a third for two years. A further £1.7 billion each year will be provided to benefit working families on Universal Credit with the work allowance – the amount families can earn before losing credits – being increased by £1000 per annum.

A new two per cent digital services tax to insure that large digital firms pay a “fair share” of tax, is expected to raise £400 million per annum. Schools will get a further 400 million this year and defence will get a further £1 billion this year and next. There is also £160 million for counter-terror police. The national living wage will increase by nearly five per cent to £8.21. The national productivity investment fund will be increased to £37 billion and will be extended to 2024. Large roads will get £28.8 billion for 2020-25, and even potholes will get £420 million! PFI will be abolished, leaving a bill for £200 billion to be honoured.

There was a range of extra funding largely for small business – extending the annual investment allowance to £1 million; extending the start-up loans programme for 10,000 entrepreneurs; delivering the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20; keeping three million small businesses out of VAT; reducing the cost of taking on apprentices by halving the co-investment rate for non-levy payers; £121 million to support cutting-edge digital manufacturing; £78 million to fund electric motor innovations; £315 million in quantum technologies and £50 million for new Turing Fellowships.

Measures to help more people into home ownership include abolishing stamp duty retrospectively for first time buyers of all shared ownership properties of up to £500,000; an additional £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund; committing over £7.2 billion to a new help to buy equity loan scheme to support 110,000 new home buyers and the abolition of the housing revenue account cap controlling local authority borrowing for house building.

There are measures for those keen on the environment and more money for the Transforming Cities fund. Remarkably, the Chancellor has addressed virtually all the issues of concern to citizens and, as a result, I think, the best part of a week on, that this has proved to be a very popular Budget. The one important reform it has not addressed is the confiscatory rates of stamp duty on larger properties in London and the South East. This had led to a freezing up of the market – bad for revenues and for economic mobility.