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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Volume 454: debated on Thursday 14 December 2006

The Secretary of State was asked—

Carbon Emission Targets

1. If he will set interim targets for carbon emission reductions towards the goal of a 60 per cent. reduction by 2050. (109014)

The climate change Bill will make the Government’s long-term goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050 a statutory target, and will establish milestones or trajectories towards that. We are currently considering the appropriate interim targets, and I aim to come back to Parliament with further details on those and other elements of the climate change Bill in the new year.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but will he commit himself to reporting annually on progress in the reduction of emissions, and will he bring forward monitoring and reporting proposals? In addition, will he continue to encourage our more recalcitrant friends in the US to enact similar legislation?

On the last part of my hon. Friend’s question, I believe that it is vital that the United States put itself at the heart of a global, long-term emissions reduction deal for the period after 2012. The other part of her question was about annual reporting, which is, of course, now part of the parliamentary process, thanks to the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz). As for annual targets, I do not believe that they are the right way to proceed, and the reasons for that were spelled out well by the recently retired former head of Friends of the Earth, Mr. Charles Secrett, who said:

“I don’t believe in annual targets. They would cause chaos in the way the parliamentary system works.”

We are right to consider interim measures and targets that make sense, but I do not think that annual targets can give the sort of approach that is necessary.

Does the Secretary of State believe that encouraging the growth in air travel will help to reduce carbon emissions?

The growth in air travel is now one of the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide and other emissions. Obviously, aviation’s net impact on the environment is affected by a combination of things: the number of people who travel, or the number of flights; technological advances in the aviation industry; and the way in which airline movements are managed, because the aviation industry would say that an important part of the issue is air traffic control and other systems. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is vital that we recognise the full environmental and economic cost of aviation in developing plans for the future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that climate change is not just about Government targets? It is about community targets, and people’s dedication to reducing their personal impact on our planet. Will he work much harder with the private sector than he has done so far, because many of us believe that it is the private sector, by developing new technologies, that will open the gates to meeting real targets?

My hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in the subject. He is absolutely right that the Government, business and individuals cannot crack the problem acting on their own. The Government have to take a lead, not least by getting their own house in order. Business must make a contribution, and there is now cross-party support for the fact that nearly half the country’s greenhouse gas emissions are covered by the European Union emissions trading scheme, which is a positive development. Individuals can play an important part, too, and that is why I have led the debate about personal carbon allowances and so-called carbon credit cards, which could help individuals to see how they can make a contribution that will help the environment and themselves.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that climate change will not be tackled without major political will. Does he remember a request being made by all the main Opposition parties to join with the Government to reach a consensus on the way forward? Will he tell the House what action has been taken to harness that good political will of the House to resolve that critical issue?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I hope that the climate change Bill that we will introduce in the new year will provide the basis for cross-party consensus. Certainly, the leaders, at least, of all the parties, not just the three main parties, have said that they are committed to the 60 per cent. long-term target for 2050. If we can build consensus on the measures, as well as on the targets, that will be beneficial, not just on the obvious point—

Order. I put it on the record that the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), who asked the question, has left the Chamber, although we have not completed the questioning. That is a discourtesy, and I inform the Whip that that should be pointed out to the hon. Lady. She should wait at least until the next question. I call Mr. Peter Ainsworth.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is a shame that the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty) has left the Chamber, as she asked a rather good supplementary question, and I was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s reply. We want to be helpful to the Government in moving towards a low-carbon economy, and we want him to be ambitious. Perhaps I should clarify: we know that he is ambitious, but we want him to be ambitious about climate change. Why will he not reconsider his opposition to including annual targets for cutting carbon in the climate change Bill?

One very good reason for opposing annual targets can be seen in the alternative climate change Bill that Conservative spokesmen introduced only a month ago. Far from committing the Conservative party to annual targets, it said that they did not make sense and proposed targets for five years or longer. In that Bill, the Conservatives avoided a reference to annual targets. The hon. Gentleman says that he is a great advocate of annual targets. However, in various interviews, he has said that there should be not rigid annual targets but a rolling programme of targets, so he does not even believe it himself.

The right hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand, which is odd for a man who has acquired a reputation as a brainiac. Let me try to be helpful, and cite not the former director of Friends of the Earth but the present one:

“While there may be some years when cuts are larger, and others when cuts are smaller, it is essential that the Bill is clear what the cuts should be each year, to make it easy to assess Government performance.”

The right hon. Gentleman may not understand that, but the director of Friends of the Earth does, and so do Oxfam, Christian Aid, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the wildlife trusts, Unison, WWF, the Women’s Institute and 38 other organisations. I know that the Secretary of State is keen to play catch-up on the environment, and here is a fantastic opportunity to catch up with annual targets or be left behind and continue to be as ineffective as the Chancellor clearly wants him to be.

I do not think that I will compete on the level of understanding, but when the countries of the world looked at the issue of targets during negotiations on the Kyoto treaty in the late 1990s—

The hon. Gentleman might learn something if he listened. When the international community considered targets in the late 1990s, it specifically rejected annual targets on the grounds that five-year budgets were a far more effective way of recognising the differences that can arise year on year. I remind the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that he had a good opportunity, when he presented his much trumpeted Bill in November, to include measures that favoured annual targets, but he refused to do so. As the Prime Minister showed during the Queen’s Speech debate, at that time there were four different Conservative positions on annual targets. Last week—

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is no technical impediment to the adjustment of data for gross domestic product to allow for the business cycle? The Government already adjust their own energy use figures for temperature and thus the weather, so will he reassure the House that, in the forthcoming Bill, he will not set NIMTO—not in my term of office—targets, but targets that allow the Government’s performance to be assessed? A five-year target would be a NIMTO target, as a Parliament usually lasts for four years. Will he allow the Government’s performance to be assessed on an ongoing basis during their term of office?

I am not sure whether it is better to be a “not in my term of office” individual or never to have a term of office, but let us not go into that. The hon. Gentleman has studied the issue carefully, and would agree that he is an expert on budgets, so I urge him to accept that budgets that last for several years are a far more effective way of achieving the balance of credibility and flexibility that is essential in this area. It is significant that the Kyoto protocol opted for five-year targets in carbon budgets, and the European emissions trading scheme, too, uses that measure. The attempt to create a division where there is none is not sensible. I was not able to finish my reply to the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea), but the consensus that he proposed can be achieved through a sensible approach that balances credibility and flexibility as I described.

Fisheries Bill

2. What progress he has made in bringing forward a new fisheries Bill following the review of salmon and freshwater fisheries in 2000. (109016)

We have today completed a review of salmon and freshwater fisheries policy, and I can announce to the House that we intend to meet the objectives my hon. Friend and I share through secondary legislation as quickly as possible.

Britain’s 3.5 million anglers will welcome the news that the outcome of the salmon and freshwater fisheries review will be enacted by the Government, as promised in our charter for angling several years ago. However, will the measures set out by the Minister enable tougher action to be taken against fish thefts, which are carried out either for the illegal stocking of fisheries or, more recently, by eastern European workers who simply fish for the pot? Will he increase the present derisory penalties and tidy up the ambiguous and ineffective byelaws?

I agree with my hon. Friend and pay tribute to the tireless work that he does on behalf of the United Kingdom’s 3.5 million anglers. We do think we will be able to address the concerns that I share with him about the current level of fines for fish theft, and the whole range of concerns that were raised by the independent review back in 2000.

I am worried by the Minister’s answer to the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter). On 23 February 2004 the Minister stated:

“Work is proceeding towards the development of primary legislation required to implement other accepted recommendations”—[Official Report, 23 February 2004; Vol. 418, c. 137W.]

that is, of the Warren report. So the Minister has rowed back from primary legislation in the form of a fisheries Bill, and the draft Marine Bill has disappeared, though he promised that on 3 July 2006 at column 745W. Can he tell us whether there is to be a marine Bill and when, or will he row back to secondary legislation for that as well?

The question was about salmon and freshwater fisheries, but with the Speaker’s indulgence, I shall answer a question about the Marine Bill. We have made it clear that we have not abandoned our commitment to the Marine Bill. It was in our manifesto and it will be delivered before the next election.

British Waterways

12. What assessment he has made of the impact of the budget allocated to British Waterways for the 2007-08 financial year on the performance of that body against its objectives. (109026)

The Secretary of State last discussed the funding of British Waterways with its chief executive on 23 November 2006. Government have consulted closely with British Waterways on the financial pressures facing DEFRA and the impact that these will have on it. Decisions on 2007-08 financial allocations have not been finalised. Government will discuss in detail the impact of any decisions with British Waterways once these are known.

I recently visited a company in my constituency called Bayford Ltd, whose premises are adjacent to the Aire and Calder Navigation. A few years ago the company stopped carrying its freight on the motorways and put it on the canals. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will take no decision likely to threaten such progress, so that no funding problems will occur to prevent that modal shift?

I am delighted to echo my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for freight going back on to the waterways. In the context of climate change, that is exactly the sort of move we should encourage. Although the exact modality and the use of the waterways is a matter for British Waterways to consider in relation to its management of the waterways, I am sure that my hon. Friend knows of the Olympics project and our desire that much of the freight traffic for the construction of that project should be on the canals and waterways in the area if the development there goes ahead.

British waterways are proving increasingly popular across the country. In my constituency local people intend to build a brand new waterways park. However, the cuts directly caused by the Department’s failure to manage the single farm payments properly will probably result in 180 job losses. Is it right that local people should suffer because of the Department’s incompetence?

The hon. Gentleman is new to these matters and I understand his desire to get up to speed on them, in light of the proposal for the construction of the new Bedford to Milton Keynes canal, but he will have to do better than that. He spoke of the funding cuts related to the Rural Payments Agency. If he had bothered to find out the facts, he would know that of the £200 million that DEFRA had to reallocate in-year within its budget, only £23 million related to that—a little over 10 per cent. If he looks at the funding for the waterways, he will find that this year it represents the fourth highest income level that British Waterways has had in its entire history. Over the past seven years, since 1999, £524 million of investment has gone in from the Government to clear the safety backlog that the previous Government had left before 1997.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that if this year’s sudden grant cuts are followed by further long-term reductions, the magnificent regeneration benefits from the Government’s investment in British Waterways will be reversed, threatening the future of smaller, vulnerable canals such as Caldon canal in my constituency, which would be a disaster for rural and urban areas alike?

I do not accept what my hon. Friend says. The cuts this year, which represent just 6.6 per cent. of the allocated budget at the beginning of this financial year, will not have the effect that she suggests. It is absolutely wrong to link—

The hon. Gentleman talks about the 180 redundancies, but he ought to know that the British Waterways restructuring programme was in train before the in-year cuts ever happened. If he seriously thinks that a 6.6 per cent. in-year reduction in budget could precipitate a restructuring on the scale that he suggests, he should look at the figures and do his arithmetic again.

Last year, there were two breaches on the Llangollen canal. Canals in my area have had huge investment—public, private and voluntary—in recent years. There is significant environmental damage and a risk to water supply. If there is a breach this year, can the Minister guarantee that it will be mended—if necessary, out of the contingency fund?

I am delighted that for once the hon. Gentleman has recognised the vast amount of investment that this Government have put in to clear the safety backlog—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says, “And our Government”, but I have the figures in front of me and that is not the case. In the last year of the Conservative Administration, the total revenue figure, on a like-for-like basis, was £98.7 million; this year, it is £189.4 million. That gives a good indication of the position.

The hon. Gentleman asked for a guarantee about his breaches. He has already received a specific, clear and accurate response on that matter from my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare in the debate that took place a couple of weeks ago, when he said that it is a matter for British Waterways to consider and prioritise as part of its managerial responsibilities. It would be completely inappropriate for any Minister to override the managerial responsibilities of British Waterways by giving guarantees of the kind that the hon. Gentleman requests.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s positive response to discussions with British Waterways. As he knows, the benefits that it delivers in terms of education, regeneration, transport and sport, among other things, are the responsibility of many Departments other than his own. In his discussions with ministerial colleagues, particularly those in the Treasury, will he redouble his efforts to ensure the delivery of a secure and sustainable funding regime for British Waterways that secures the future of these valuable national assets?

I recognise the excellent work that my hon. Friend has done over a sustained period in his representation of the waterways. He speaks with great knowledge, particularly about the regeneration effect of waterways and canals. The Government’s record on that is second to none. A maintenance safety backlog was cleared to the tune of £42 million, and there was a maintenance backlog of £280 million that we have brought back down to £119 million. That is the extent of the investment that the Government have put in. There have been impacts on other Departments’ priorities—I mentioned the Olympics earlier. That will continue. I am confident that we will resource British Waterways in future to its satisfaction and that of other Departments as well as DEFRA, for which it delivers so much.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) has less hair than me.

British Waterways is an effective and efficient organisation, which makes good use of public money, provides benefits for tourism and biodiversity, and conserves important buildings from the time of the industrial revolution. However, it is bearing the brunt of DEFRA’s catastrophic mismanagement of the budget. The Under-Secretary prays in aid Treasury changes in the rules, but they happened three years ago, so why are the effects being felt only now? Does that mean severe on-going cuts for the much valued organisation?

I must correct the hon. Gentleman again. It is not the case that British Waterways has borne the brunt of the reallocation of £200 million in the Department. The in-year cut, which is only to the grant-in-aid, not the organisation’s total income, is 6.6 per cent. If he considers that as part of the total income, he will realise that the figure is just over 1.5 per cent. of the organisation’s budget. The reallocation was felt throughout DEFRA, and other organisations that do not have the same resources and capacity to attract external funding had in-year cuts of 10 per cent. and more. To say that British Waterways bore the brunt is wrong. I understand the tremendous support that British Waterways enjoys because of its regeneration work throughout the country. We have shown that we value it through our investment. I stress again that we have invested £524 million in it since we have been in office.

Single Farm Payments

4. What progress has been made with the planned improvements to the system for making single farm payments; and if he will make a statement. (109018)

The Rural Payments Agency has made several improvements to the way in which it operates and aims to build on them, taking account of the guidance from the National Audit Office and other inquiries. More than 99 per cent. of claimants and funds have been paid for the 2005 scheme year. The first step in improving the system for the future will be the consequences of my announcement on 7 November: when full payments are not possible, partial payments for the 2006 scheme for eligible claimants with claims of over €1,000 should begin in mid-February.

I am grateful for that response, but a recent meeting between Lord Rooker and several hon. Members, the Secretary of State’s statement on 7 November and the answer that he has just given provided no details about why the scheme will be better and why we can expect an improvement. It is bad enough that the 2005 payments were paid so late—thousands of pounds are still owed to farmers in my constituency, who have made environmental improvements to qualify for the payments. If I now go back to my farmers and say that I cannot tell them what the improvements will be and that the Secretary of State does not have any confidence about improvements—[Interruption.] He should read his recent statement—there is nothing in it that gives us confidence for the future—

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman approaches the matter in that way. We have been clear about changes to the senior leadership team, changes in the corporate governance of the RPA, site heads for all the RPA’s offices throughout the country, better management information and whole-case working. The hon. Gentleman knows that Lord Rooker and the chief executive of the RPA hold a weekly meeting with the key representatives of the farming industry. I have been the first to say that the episode was damaging and that we will not get out of it in one leap. However, the statement that I made on 7 November was clear about the timetable for improvements and the way in which we would use the partial payment mechanism from mid-February for the cases that were not receiving full payments. The most important thing that he can say to his constituents is that the new chief executive of the RPA, about whom I expressed confidence in my statements in the summer, is getting a grip of the organisation, is determined to put it on track and, above all, is determined to make sure that we do not make promises that we cannot deliver. I believe that our promises will be delivered.

Would not two improvements to the RPA be to simplify its function by removing some of its marginal activities in which—although it is hard to argue that is skilled in anything much—it is even less skilled, and to consider its overall governance? The Secretary of State mentioned the governance of the RPA, so will he reflect on the proposal I made about four years ago that the organisation should be customer-led in its processing activity, as opposed to being part of a civil service function as it is now?

The Hunter review of the functions of the RPA is considering the points raised by my hon. Friend. While he is right that the organisation must be customer-focused, it is delivering within rules set by the European Union. Some of those rules have been put in place in quite a detailed way to ensure that, right around Europe, payments are only made on a satisfactory basis. There is a balance to be struck between the sort of regulations by which we want other countries to have to abide in making such payments, and our own confidence that light-touch regulation is needed here. I assure him, however, that all aspects of the issues that he raises are being considered by the Hunter review.

The Secretary of State plans to cut the single farm payment next year through voluntary modulation, despite no other country in Europe wanting to do that and the regulation being defeated in the European Parliament by nearly 10:1, which included most of the Socialist group voting against it. I am sure that the Secretary of State knows, however, that neither the Commission nor the European Parliament can stop it, so he will get his voluntary modulation. In that light, and on the assumption that he knows by now how much money he will get from the Chancellor, can he explain why he has not yet submitted his rural development plan to the Commission? At least then the system could be approved, and once the legal regulation is achieved, he could commence the scheme.

Let me answer the two parts of that question directly. First, from what the hon. Gentleman has said, the House should be clear that Conservative Members of the European Parliament, with the support of their Front Bench, are blocking the early payment of rural development programme funding around England. That is a direct consequence of their support for a blocking measure that can have no other effect than delay. That delay hits hard-pressed communities around the country, and the hon. Gentleman should consider his own record. Secondly, our plans for the rural development programme can only be submitted when there are rules within which we can do so. That is what we are waiting for, and as soon as he unblocks the system, we will submit those plans.

Domestic Carbon Emissions

5. What assessment he has made of the extent to which individual behaviour may contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions from homes. (109019)

The Department is making a detailed assessment of the actions that people can take to help the environment, including reducing their carbon emissions. We will be publishing further proposals shortly.

I thank the Minister for that answer. In his pre-Budget report, the Chancellor announced that householders’ income from installing micro-generation will not be subject to tax. In view of that statement, what further policies are the Government considering to encourage individuals to reduce carbon emissions from their homes?

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that individuals take action to reduce their carbon footprint. About 40 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions stem from actions taken by individuals. People in Britain understand the impact of climate change and want to do something about it. There is still a gap, however, between people’s values and their behaviour. Finding new and better ways to make it easier for people to reduce CO2 emissions is a high priority for the Government. My hon. Friend will be interested in the Energy Saving Trust’s “Save your 20 per cent.” campaign, which provides a number of useful tips on how people can reduce their carbon footprint.

I welcome what the Minister has to say, and he knows of my initiative to make Fylde the most energy-efficient council in the country. He will also accept the complexity of the issues involved in dealing with climate change, whether from a personal or governmental standpoint. Will he consider changing the energy White Paper that is due out in March 2007 to a climate change White Paper, enabling the whole range of issues influencing the subject, not just energy, to be dealt with in volume?

I was very pleased to meet the right hon. Gentleman recently to hear of his plans to make Fylde council the most energy-efficient in the country. As a Government, we are keen to stimulate competition between local authorities to take action to tackle climate change. Over 200 authorities have signed the Nottingham declaration on climate change and many are very advanced in terms of action plans to reduce their carbon footprints.

The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the close co-operation that exists between our Department and the Department of Trade and Industry on the energy White Paper, just as we worked closely on the energy review that we published in July. Clearly climate change and energy security were key priorities and will remain so in the energy White Paper when it is published.

Public expectations have been raised greatly by the promise of a climate change Bill, but, of necessity, that Bill is going to be about committees, frameworks and processes. May I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that the narrative that accompanies the Bill through the House involves the public and indicates ways in which they can make their contribution with, as he said, the Energy Saving Trust 10-point plan, which is so simple that I have been able to complete all stages? I trust every hon. Member would do so similarly.

I agree that engaging the public in tackling climate change is hugely important. We will pass landmark legislation for the UK and it is important that we do so, but we also want to generate a wide public debate about climate change and the actions that we can all take to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions.

As the Minister and others have said, the most effective agent for encouraging individuals to do their bit at home in tackling climate change has been the work of the Energy Saving Trust; indeed, its campaign to raise public awareness generally was singled out last month by the Prime Minister. So why have DEFRA Ministers appointed yet another advertising agency to run their own public awareness campaign around exactly the same issues and given the agency £5 million to spend on advertisements that duplicate the work of the Energy Saving Trust?

We are not duplicating the work of the Energy Saving Trust. We are looking at new and better ways to communicate the message on climate change and to give people some clear, practical advice on measures that they can take that will change their behaviour and help to reduce their carbon footprint. The Energy Saving Trust does extremely valuable work, but we also have the climate change communications initiative and we are looking at ways in which we can improve our websites and other mechanisms to get our message across. This is vital and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) said earlier, it is important that we have a big national debate about the actions that individuals can take. We need more communication, not less.

My hon. Friend talks about the carbon footprint, but is he aware that few people understand the term? The biggest contribution to that that families make is through heating, and nowadays no sensible household uses excess fuel or energy because of the rip-off prices that the gas and electricity industries charge them. When will we start taking this issue seriously—like we did with regard to North sea gas when we had a conversion programme that converted 13 million appliances—by telling households exactly how they can take steps, and by supporting them with capital investment if they need that? They do not understand the new factors, the insulation properties or the regulations. When are we going to get real about this issue and develop a national programme to meet every household’s needs?

Energy efficiency is extremely important for all households, and particularly for vulnerable households. This Government have spent a substantial sum on the Warm Front programme. We have also introduced warm zones, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the pre-Budget report that there will be extra funding for such zones. That will make a real difference, because it will join up action on the ground in a practical way to help people to insulate their homes and reduce their energy bills. There is an issue to do with future electricity and gas supplies. We need to address that as part of theenergy White Paper, and we are doing just that. Weare also encouraging microgeneration through the microgeneration strategy and, of course, we have the renewables obligation and the renewables targets that were set out for 2010 and 2020.

On changing personal behaviour, would the Minister like to comment on the contrast between the measly £6.5 million allocated to the low-carbon buildings programme, which will yet again lead to household grants being exhausted before the year-end with serious implications for local supplier businesses, and the £12 million allocated to the communications initiative that he has just referred to, whose latest output is as follows:

“Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the Feast of Stephen

Sunbathers lay round about

Tanned and crisp and even

Brightly shone the moon that night

With mosquitoes cruel

When a poor man came in sight

Malaria killed his mule”?

Is that really the work of a Government who are serious about climate change?

It is important that the low-carbon buildings programme takes a range of action to help to reduce CO2 emissions from buildings. As a Government we have set the target of the Government office estate becoming carbon neutral by 2012, and we have ambitious, sustainable operation targets that go much wider. We do need to communicate, and although the hon. Gentleman might have one view about the effectiveness of what he has quoted as a communication I am sure that others will have different views.

Bottom Trawling

6. What steps the UK Government are taking to end bottom trawling on the high seas; and if he will make a statement. (109020)

Thanks to UK leadership, we now have in place an agreed international framework for phasing out destructive high-seas bottom fishing over the next two years. I am only sorry that an urgent and far-reaching deal was scuppered by Iceland—which is extraordinary given the damage that it has already done to its international reputation by resuming commercial whaling.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we ought to be worried about not only the depletion of fish stocks, but the considerable damage that bottom trawlers do to habitats at the bottom of the oceans that have taken thousands of years to build up, including cold-water coral beds? Is it not time to consider having sites of special scientific interest at sea, as we have on land?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The tragedy of such destruction is that in many cases valuable and vulnerable ecosystems that have built up over thousands of years are destroyed in a matter of seconds. We face a huge challenge in international waters where governance is often weak, if not non-existent, and where enforcement can also be completely absent. He is also right to say that that we need to take action in our own waters. We have been doing so by protecting areas such as the Darwin Mounds—we are the first European Union country to do such a thing. We are committed to having exactly the network of marine protected areas that my hon. Friend—and, I am sure, all Members—would like there to be.

The Minister will not like my question. Is not the only way for the United Kingdom to preserve its marine habitat and fish stocks within its own territorial waters to restore to the United Kingdom total control of fishing within its own territorial waters?

I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Gentleman that his own Front-Bench colleagues have, rightly, abandoned that policy. Even if the common fisheries policy did not exist, we would have to invent something like it. As someone who visits and takes a great interest in the marine environment, he knows that fish do not respect national borders.

Can my hon. Friend explain how the culturally and environmentally sensitive people of Iceland can continue this barbaric practice of whaling, while at the same time promoting, as part of their tourism, whale watching? Will he tell the President of Iceland—not the ambassador—that such a practice is absolutely despicable and we are not having it?

I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend, and we have lost no opportunity at the highest level to tell the Icelanders of our displeasure. Their decision was inexcusable and inexplicable. There was an unprecedented condemnation at the European Environment Council, led by Austria and supported by us, and we will continue to make our views known at every opportunity.

EU Emissions Trading

7. What contribution he expects the European Union’s emissions trading scheme to make to tackling climate change. (109021)

Under phase 1 of the EU emissions trading scheme, the UK is set to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 65 million tonnes. Our proposals for phase 2 should deliver extra savings of 29.3 million tonnes a year. All EU member states are required to set emission caps that take account of their Kyoto commitments.

We can no longer be one-nation or one-generation environmentalists, and the European Commission has said that only one member state’s plans—the UK’s—are tough enough. What, therefore, can we say to the British people to convince them that the phase 2 plans—we are now in phase 2—can be sufficiently ambitious and will work, given that we have yet to convince our neighbours to produce good enough plans, and to do the right job?

I am very encouraged by the robust approach that the Commission is taking in assessing the phase 2 national allocation plans. Member states understand that they need to meet their Kyoto commitments, and that the NAPs for all member states will be sufficiently robust. The EU ETS is working. Phase 1 has been a trial period but, according to recent estimates, it is already producing significant CO2 savings. I have no doubt that phase 2, given the tighter caps that will be introduced, will be even more successful and that emissions trading will play a key part in reducing CO2 emissions in the European economy.

When does the Minister expect phase 2 of the EU’s emissions trading scheme to be fully in place, and does he agree with me that until we have a longterm and robust system under the banner of the ETS, necessary investment in the UK energy market—such as renewables but also nuclear—cannot proceed?

Very shortly, we will produce detailed figures on our national allocation plan installation-level amounts for companies to comment on. We will submit the final plan to the Commission in a few weeks’ time, which will be in plenty of time for the start of phase 2 of the scheme. The hon. Lady will be aware that the ETS is being reviewed in the first half of next year in order to assess what will happen after 2012. The UK will play a leading role in that, just as we played a leading role in the original design of the ETS.

Carbon Emission Targets

We set out significant measures to strengthen domestic and international action on climate change mitigation in the 2006 climate change programme, and through the energy policy review published last June. In addition to our proposed climate change Bill, we are considering ways to help large commercial and public sector organisations and individuals to cut their emissions.

I welcome those initiatives. My right hon. Friend has been promoting in recent speeches some very important ideas about cutting individual carbon usage through a system of carbon allowances. Both as a matter of social justice and environmental necessity, we need to introduce policies that limit the personal use of carbon according to people’s actual usage, so that those whose lifestyle produces most carbon have to make the biggest cuts. Sir Nicholas Stern’s report says that there is very little time to change policy radically. Will my right hon. Friend’s Department bring forward a Green Paper to develop those ideas further, so that we may legislate in due course?

The science and the economics tell us clearly that we have between 10 and 15 years for global carbon emissions to peak and 30 to 40 years for emissions in industrialised countries to be reduced by between 25 per cent. and 50 to 60 per cent. The ideas being developed were first trailed in the energy review and we continue to discuss them. In respect of the incentives and rewards that we can offer to those individuals who are carbon thrifty, we published this week an issues paper about the idea of personal carbon allowances and we will take forward the debate in as many ways as we can.

Of course one of the quickest ways to reduce carbon emissions is to replace fossil fuels with biofuels and bioethanol. I know that the Secretary of State will be following closely developments at Whittington where a biofuels plant is being established. Will he look to establish such a plant in the north of England, perhaps in the constituency of the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on the site of the British Sugar plant, which is closing at great cost to local farmers in north Yorkshire?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I know that she forms an important alliance—I shall not call it an unholy alliance—with my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on certain issues, while maintaining a healthy competition with him on other matters. We are following the issues in York and its surroundings carefully. The most important thing that we can do is to ensure that the demand side has a clear bias towards biofuels and other such products. For example, the initiative in respect of the road transport fuel obligation—including the guarantee on 5 per cent. of forecourt sales being from biofuels by 2008, with an aim of doubling that figure—is the sort of signal that we can best give to ensure that we get the right pull through on those important new technologies.

As my hon. Friend said, we need a wide range of initiatives across Government and from individuals. He is probably aware that I have in my constituency a fantastic company called Intelligent Energy, which has produced the first hybrid fuel cell motorbike and hopes to move into cars. Will he ensure that there is sufficient funding to see those programmes through, not only from the research and development point of view—the company is probably years ahead of any other in the world—but to reach the point of production of such vehicles, so that we can reduce carbon emissions?

I am not aware of all the details of the work on the motorbike that my hon. Friend mentions, but I will look into it. I will also look into whether the Government have a funding role, but that may be more of a stretch, not least given the discussions we have had in the past 53 minutes or so about my Department’s funding position. I will look into the issues that he raises and I hope that his company is able to capitalise on the impressive advances that it has made.

Rural Proofing

Rural proofing is the responsibility of all Departments. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plays a major role in making sure that it happens—as part of the policy-making process and in the design of delivery arrangements. We established the Commission for Rural Communities to monitor independently how policies are meeting rural needs.

Given that rural access to banks, schools, GPs and indeed post offices has significantly declined and that total farm incomes have fallen by 11 per cent. in real terms over the past year, does the Minister really think that the impact of Government policy on rural communities has been properly considered?

The hon. Gentleman made some particular challenges. Let me just say that in fact there has been a 37 per cent. increase in the number of cash points and in banking availability in rural communities since 1997. The hon. Gentleman mentioned rural transport. Bus availability in rural areas has increased from 35 to 51 per cent. between 1997 and 2006. I agree that the rural proof is in the rural pudding, but we have delivered it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that social enterprise has an important role in all forms of rural development? We need to look at a range of new services, including working with health and education. Will he make sure that other Departments are as keen as DEFRA about using models of social enterprise?

I am very pleased to endorse my hon. Friend’s remarks about the importance of social enterprise. It is one way for many village and rural communities around the country to take ownership of services, and they are beginning to be able to provide those services for themselves. I trust that I do not need to spread that message around my colleagues in other Departments, as most are well aware of the social enterprise work that is going on, through the co-ordinating work of the Cabinet Office—

Indeed, but it is the brother of my Secretary of State who has been co-ordinating the work going on in Government, to great effect.

When he looks at rural proofing, will the Minister have a word with the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who is officially in charge of Food Standards Agency regulations? An abattoir in my constituency has been closed for two weeks while the FSA dillies and dallies over investigating whether its licence should be restored. In looking at rural proofing, it is clear that one thing that has to be considered—

I understand the seriousness of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I know of the investigation to which he refers. Although it would be improper for me to comment, we want it to be concluded at the earliest possible date.

Waste Strategy

In reviewing the waste strategy, has my hon. Friend considered giving local authorities powers to introduce variable charges for waste collection, to reflect the real cost of collection and incentivise waste recycling? If so, will he consider discussing with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether suitable enabling clauses can be introduced into the forthcoming local government Bill?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this important matter. Evidence from other countries suggests that giving householders a rebate for recycling can incentivise recycling and reduce overall waste. In turn, that cuts the costs incurred by householders and local authorities. The Conservative-controlled Local Government Association has requested that we give local authorities that freedom, and it is being actively considered.

Local authorities have targets for household waste recycling, and I am pleased to say that Kettering borough council has one of the best recycling rates in the country. When will DEFRA introduce targets and incentives for local authorities and others to recycle waste from commercial organisations?

Targets already exist that affect the commercial sector, where the level of recycling and reuse is nearly double what is in the household sector. In the past, our priority has been to try to get household recycling up to levels similar to those achieved in the commercial and business sectors. However, we are actively considering the role of the commercial sector as part of the waste review that we intend to publish in the new year.

One element of reducing waste involves reducing the amount of material going to waste in the first place. What is DEFRA doing to reduce the amount of excess packaging that is so prevalent among many major food suppliers in the country?

My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the latest audited figures, which I think will be published tomorrow, show that we have managed to decrease the overall amount of waste we produced over the last year by the biggest amount ever—and it is only the second time that we have managed to achieve that since the second world war. We can break the link between economic growth and waste growth, which is absolutely right. We need to do more on minimisation. Retailers have recently signed up to a voluntary agreement with our Department to end the growth of unnecessary packaging and reduce it in absolute terms overall by 2010. I very much welcome that agreement.

GMO Field Trials

There have been 185 genetically modified crop trial sites in England since 2001, including the individual fields that formed part of the farm-scale evaluations programme.

In 2003, the GM nation public debate revealed widespread mistrust of the Government and multinationals, while the biotechnology commission into co-existence urged that farmers growing GM crops must follow strict, legally enforceable protocols. So why, last week, did the Secretary of State sanction a GM potato crop trial near Long Eaton close to north-west Leicestershire, demonstrating such a weak co-existence framework? Will the Minister reassure the public that these matters will be seriously scrutinised in detail in this place?

I can certainly assure the public that our top priority remains protecting consumers and the environment. We allowed this crop trial to go ahead only after rigorous assessment. We took advice from the independent body that deals with these matters—the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment—and it confirmed that there were no issues to prevent a trial from taking place. The potatoes grown there will not go into the food chain and strict crop separation distances will be enforced, so we do not believe that there is any problem here. I would also point out that three other European countries are undertaking similar trials at the moment and no issues have been raised there.