In Parliament – January

Oral Answers to Questions – Northern Ireland – 8th January 2014

Nigel Mills MP: In the absence of a long-term solution on parading, does the Secretary of State believe that the new Parades Commission has sufficient confidence from all sides in Northern Ireland to ensure that this year’s parading season does not end in the awful scenes that we saw last year? Does she think that any action is required on her part to ensure that such scenes do not happen again?

Theresa Villiers MP (The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; Chipping Barnet, Conservative): It is timely to remind the House of the vital importance of obeying Parades Commission determinations. We have had an extensive debate about reforming the adjudication system for parades, but unless and until an agreement on that is reached and implemented, the Parades Commission is the lawfully designated authority and its determinations must be obeyed.

Oral Answers to Questions – Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Farming Industry (Red Tape) – 9th January 2014

Nigel Mills MP: What assessment he has made of the scope for cutting red tape in the farming industry.

George Eustice MP (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative): We are committed to freeing farmers from red tape to help them to seize economic opportunities. We are reducing paperwork burdens and making guidance clearer and simpler. Farmers who play by the rules now receive fewer inspections. For example, 740 members of the Environment Agency’s pig and poultry scheme are inspected once every three years, rather than annually. I expect to make an announcement shortly on further opportunities for cutting red tape as a result of the agriculture red tape challenge.

Nigel Mills MP: I thank the Minister for that answer, but for many farmers in my constituency overly complex livestock identification and movement controls remain a burden on their businesses. What plans does the Minister have to simplify this regime?

George Eustice MP (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative): My hon. Friend makes a good point. Considerable progress has already been made on livestock identification and the complex rules governing animal movements. We introduced electronic reporting for pigs

in 2011, and we will do the same for sheep from the spring. We have negotiated changes to the EU sheep tagging rules for the historic flock, generating savings of up to £11 million for sheep farmers. We will also implement the recommendations made by the farming regulation taskforce to simplify how we define livestock holdings in England to avoid confusion around the rules, and we will phase out cattle tracing links and sole occupancy authorities to further streamline the regime.

Oral Answers to Questions – Work and Pensions – Habitual Residence Test – 13th January 2014

Nigel Mills MP: What plans he has for the habitual residence test.

Iain Duncan Smith MP (The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; Chingford and Woodford Green, Conservative): Migrants must now meet a much tougher habitual residence test than before, showing the efforts they have made to find work before coming to the UK and that their English language skills are not a barrier to getting a job. They must also have been resident in the UK for three months before being able to access out-of-work benefits. We have plans to make it even stronger, by introducing a minimum earnings threshold, with tougher questions on whether work is genuine, and job seekers from the European economic area will not receive housing benefit.

Nigel Mills MP: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that detailed answer. I urge him to go a bit further and listen to the representations he has received to extend the qualifying period for the habitual residence test, and make people have to be here for a year before they can get those benefits.

Iain Duncan Smith MP (The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; Chingford and Woodford Green, Conservative): As has been made clear beyond this Chamber, we are looking at that matter at the moment, and we have been discussing it with a number of other European nations, the vast majority of which are clear and with us on the idea that freedom of movement should not result in an opportunity for people to take benefits from wherever they want and to pick and choose their benefit areas. We are looking at how we can come to an agreement on those time scales and limits.