I am delighted to be standing before you today, as your Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
And it is a great privilege to serve you in this role because I was raised in a rural county, the county that my family and I still live in, the fine county of Hampshire, the north east of which I represent today.
It was when I was at Hook Infant School that I learnt how soap used to be made and began to speak up against whaling, which loopholes sadly still allow today.
It was at Hook Junior School that I championed recycling, before separate kerbside collections existed, and everything was going to landfill.
Like our Prime Minister, I am proud to say I was an environmentalist before it was fashionable.
Having grown up in North East Hampshire, I understand the issues faced by those in rural communities too.
I will be a champion for people who live in the countryside the length and breadth of our nation.
And I look forward to visiting to farms, businesses and charities across the country, including PDM Produce in Shropshire where I was yesterday, and Mondelez in Bourneville, who I will be visiting on Wednesday.
Thanks to everyone who has given me such a warm welcome already, here in Birmingham and across the West Midlands, even if the same can’t be said for Twitter.
There is much to do.
And I have been put here by the Prime Minister to deliver.
At DEFRA, we’re all about EFG.
I am delighted to have a great team who are already getting on with the job –
Trudy Harrison as your Minister for the Environment;
Mark Spencer as your Minister for Food;
and Scott Mann as your Minister for Growth;
all ably supported by Lord Benyon as Minister for International Nature and Biosecurity,
and Lord Harlech, Darren Henry, Laura Farris and Antony Higginbotham in the Whips Offices and as my Parliamentary Private Secretaries.
And as we all get on with the job, top of the list – key to unlocking everything else we want – is growing our economy.
Though our opponents would like to pretend otherwise, a strong, healthy environment and a strong, healthy economy are not incompatible.
In fact, they are perfect partners.
A strong environment and a strong economy is how we deliver in a Conservative way.
That’s why I can assure you all today that my Department should no longer be seen as one that follows the EU, imposes rules and impedes innovation.
Instead of being a regulatory department, we are now an economic growth department.
Food and drink is our largest manufacturing sector.
It is bigger than automotive and aerospace put together, with a presence in every constituency in this country.
The opportunity for growth in the sector is enormous – and it will bring jobs, skills and prosperity across the nation.
More than ever, we know the importance of food security – it is crucial for our national resilience and we must boost it further still.
British food and British farming are the best in the world – premium products that should not just be enjoyed at home – rather they should be championed around the world.
Here at home, we should be able to buy British with confidence and pride.
But, to do that, we need to tighten up our labelling.
We have some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.
Shoppers vote with their feet and choose to buy British for just that reason.
And yet, did you know that Danish pork processed in Britain can be sold as British?
But we don’t have to bow the knee to every bureaucratic Bonaparte in Brussels anymore.
Haven’t we taken back control?
That’s why we will be working with supermarkets and producers to improve the data they collect on where our food comes from – and we will launch new British labelling, so that the people of our great nation can have confidence that anything labelled as British IS British.
And this has an extra Brexit bonus.
Instead of keeping the world’s best food and drink a secret, we will sell more of it around the globe,
with the Union Flag symbolising once again the quality that people around the world want to buy.
Whilst at the Department for International Trade, the Prime Minister and I were determined to open new markets and we succeeded.
British beef is back in America…
… we are selling chicken to Mongolia.
We are shipping Scottish salmon to Saudi Arabia…
And our friends in Canada are enjoying Scotch Whisky too…
This is just the beginning.
Like the Prime Minister when she was Environment Secretary,
in a fortnight, I will be in Paris at the world’s largest food fair…
… bigging up British products.
I will be working closely with my friends at Trade…
… to make sure we are capitalising on every export opportunity for our premium produce to the world…
… at the premium prices our farmers, fishermen and food producers deserve.
We have huge opportunities – lamb to the Gulf, dairy to the Far East, the list goes on.
The opportunity isn’t just demand-led though.
Supply-side reforms are crucial.
Now that we have left the EU, I am delighted to tell you that we are going to free our farmers, and we are listening to all sides for new ideas to get Britain growing, such as the review undertaken by Baroness Rock to back our tenant farmers.
Unlike the Labour Party, we trust our farmers, so we will cut through the red tape that has held back our farms for too long.
We announced in our growth plan that we would review farming regulations but – contrary to what you might have read in some corners of the media – we remain committed to our environmental schemes that support our farmers as they look after our countryside.
Some rules in the past didn’t do what they set out to. The three-crop rule and greening requirements are already gone and we will be announcing more in the coming weeks.
I bulldozed 400 trade barriers in my time at Trade and I will continue to get things done.
We must look to the future too.
We will use our new grant schemes to support farmers and food producers to invest in the technology that will boost their productivity and profitability.
The technological advancements being made in the agricultural and horticultural sectors are astounding,
producing more food whilst using fewer resources, including water.
And using less water is vital.
It’s been a long, hot summer.
With crop failure being a very real worry, we need a little rain.
And when the rain comes, we need our flood defences to be strong, to protect life and property, and we need our watercourses and beaches to be safe and sewage-free.
I believe in private enterprise.
We all do.
It’s business that creates jobs, secures our prosperity and pays for public services.
Private enterprise is intrinsic to our Conservative DNA.
we all know that government must step in if there is market failure.
Our water companies have a lot to answer for.
Too much water is wasted through leaks each year when we should be conserving it, and, in 2022,
we still find sewage in our rivers
and on our beaches.
That is not on.
On my first day in office, I met Water Company bosses to give them their report card.
They caused 62 serious pollution incidents in 2021.
I’ll be polite: could do better.
I asked them to write to me with their plans to accelerate investment in infrastructure.
They did –
and now they must deliver.
Privatisation has put in £170billion of investment into our water infrastructure already,
and the private sector will now put in another £56billion more.
And, if they don’t deliver, there will be consequences.
I can confirm to you today that I will be taking forward plans to lift the Environment Agency’s maximum civil fine for each individual breach of the rules from up to just 250,000 pounds, to up to 250 million.
This doesn’t only affect families going to our beautiful British lakes, rivers and beaches in the summer,
or surfers braving the cold winter swells.
It has repercussions for our environment,
at a time when our biodiversity is seriously under threat.
Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history.
We rely on nature to provide us with food, water and clean air,
and biodiversity is crucial to enabling nature to be productive and resilient.
More than half of global GDP is estimated to be dependent on biodiversity and nature.
That’s over £40 trillion.
When I was first elected, I founded the All Party Parliamentary Group on Endangered Species.
I believe in halting the decline.
Except, I should say, my friends, for the decline of the lesser but still too often spotted: the so-called Liberal Democrat.
That’s a species I would be happy to see remain on the endangered list.
I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, my friends.
Like you, I have fought the Lib Dems and the Socialists in communities across the country –
as an Association Officer,
as a Councillor,
and as a Member of Parliament.
And, in this brief,
I will work day and night to preserve our green and pleasant land.
Our rural landscapes – the clouded hills, the mountains green – are precious to all of
us, and we have a duty to our children and our children’s children to protect them.
I will honour that duty and I will not let leftists who seek to divide us undermine that
collective responsibility we all share to protect our environment.
It is this Conservative Government that has put in place world leading targets to halt the decline in nature by 2030, with particular thanks to the hard work of my immediate predecessors, George Eustice and Theresa Villiers.
This is a challenge, and one that requires action by many to be achieved.
But achieve it we must, for it is critical to the growth we want to see, the Conservative environmentalism we believe in.
We are going for growth, where a strong, healthy environment, is part of a strong, healthy economy.
This is a huge task.
There is much to do.
And we are determined to deliver.