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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Volume 459: debated on Thursday 19 April 2007

The Secretary of State was asked—

Departmental Regulations

I am grateful for that answer. DEFRA says that it has a commitment to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens by 25 per cent. The Minister shakes his head, but I have a written answer to a parliamentary question in which it says, in terms, that DEFRA is committed to better regulation and reducing the burden of administration by 25 per cent. I will send it to the Minister if he has not seen it. What is the evidence that DEFRA is providing anything other than empty words and actually doing something to reduce regulatory burdens? On the basis of what the Minister has just said, the answer seems to be not a lot.

It is always advisable, before saying something in the Chamber, to check one’s facts. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to refer to the 2005 notice where we did commit ourselves to a 25 per cent. reduction. I am delighted to be able to tell him that last December I published our simplification plan, in which we exceeded our own target, and we have now produced a simplification plan for a 30 per cent. reduction of administrative burdens. That is approximately £159 million taken off business—over and above the baseline that was independently assessed in 2005, which I believe is the hon. Gentleman’s time scale.

I wonder whether any of those new regulations related to flood plains, where higher water tables could result in the flooding of new housing developments? Does he agree that there should be a regulation requiring those with responsibility for flooding to keep a public register, particularly when planning applications are granted, sometimes on appeal, to build houses on flood plains?

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman which one of the 150 statutory instruments would have dealt with the specific instance to which he refers. I understand that the hon. Gentleman raised this matter recently and it has been referred to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Members often talk about regulations as if they bring only costs or burdens. They do not. They often create new frameworks for markets, new jobs and wealth. They often simplify a previous regime. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Environment Agency, which is indeed part of the DEFRA family, has responsibility for flood regulation, but in so far as the specifics to which he refers, it is a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Does my hon. Friend think as I do that that is a very strange question coming from an Opposition Member because prior to 1997, the general public were clamouring for regulation in the food safety area, which is why the Government set up the Food Standards Agency—and even today, the Conservative party’s own leader is clamouring for climate change regulation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. If we simply add up the costs of regulation without then offsetting its benefits, what results may be convenient for a bit of parliamentary slapstick, but it does not provide the best picture of the true value of regulation. My hon. Friend referred to the position before 1997, which reminds me of a good example in the Animal By-Products Regulations 2005, which the present Government introduced. The impact assessment showed a total administrative cost of £7.58 million. I have no doubt that that was part of the reason why the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who tabled this question, did not pursue those regulations when he was a Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Actually—

Surely what matters as much as the quantity of regulation is the quality, particularly where there is a potentially serious risk to human health. Given that we learned half an hour ago that, as with foot and mouth, the Government have failed to establish the cause of the outbreak of bird flu in Suffolk, is the Minister satisfied with the quality of the regulations dealing with importing poultry meat? Does he not agree that many people will be astonished—bearing in mind that there must have been a serious breach of biosecurity at the Bernard Matthews plant—that under existing regulations nobody will he held responsible and instead the company concerned will receive £589,356.89 in compensation, funded by the taxpayer? Is it not time to look again at the regulations concerning the importation of poultry meat?

Obviously the hon. Gentleman does not take a great deal of notice of his colleague, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who is the local MP and who, only two weeks ago, praised the Government’s handling of the whole matter. The hon. Gentleman will note from the report of the Food Standards Agency two weeks ago that it did not have sufficient evidence to prosecute in this case. The Government have received many plaudits for the way in which the whole matter of avian flu has been handled, including from his colleagues.

Fairtrade Farming

4. What assessment he has made of the effect of the criteria attached to achieving Fairtrade status on the possible environmental benefits accruing from Fairtrade farming. (132357)

The Government strongly support the principles of Fairtrade. The environmental standards required for Fairtrade accreditation are, of course, a key element of the scheme, complementing the better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world, which are sometimes better understood by consumers.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I have been working with Fairtrade campaigners locally to try to make Tooting a Fairtrade zone. One of the criteria that must be fulfilled before an area can be a Fairtrade zone is for the local council to pass a resolution in support of Fairtrade. Unfortunately, the majority group on Wandsworth council refuses to pass such a resolution. Does the Minister agree that Fairtrade initiatives and zones can help the Government’s aim of tackling environmental degradation globally and what does he think about the stance of Wandsworth council, which is preventing Tooting from becoming a Fairtrade zone?

I commend the extraordinary amount of work that my hon. Friend has done on this issue over a sustained period of time, galvanising the local community and really beginning to explain to people the benefits of Fairtrade and the importance of buying Fairtrade produce. It is nothing short of shameful that the Tory Wandsworth council is obstructing the move to make Tooting a Fairtrade zone. I wish him every success with the campaign. It is vital that these issues, which are not simply about justice and fairness, but which are, at their heart, about the environment as well, are taken seriously by all parties in the House.

Surely the Minister will have noticed that some supermarkets now sell only Fairtrade bananas because their customers have pressed for that. Surely it must be right that the good citizens of Tooting or Wandsworth, or wherever it might be, should seek to choose to buy Fairtrade and should not have it imposed upon them by the local council if they do not want that.

The hon. Lady clearly does not understand that this is not a matter of banning other produce from the whole of Tooting or Wandsworth. Free choice still prevails. But there are sometimes important symbolic issues in relation to a mark such as the Fairtrade mark, and to galvanise the people of Tooting to understand that is a commendable purpose. The measure would do nothing to stop people choosing freely in their supermarkets.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, while Fairtrade is a method of getting poor countries out of reliance on aid, when we are firming up those local economies, it is important to chime a note of caution to campaigners who campaign on food miles? Fairtrade economies are criticised for extending the use of food miles, and yet they are a way of creating sustainable communities in those areas.

My hon. Friend has raised an important point. The argument that there are more food miles involved is often used against produce from overseas. In fact, often more food miles are used up by people driving to the supermarket than by bringing that produce to market. It is an essential part of Fairtrade that we look at the whole supply system and the way in which produce is grown. It is right that we take into account all the environmental factors, including the energy used to produce goods and transport them to market, but the issue must be looked at in the round. He is absolutely right to raise that point.

Part of my extended family comes from an area in Kenya around Nyeri. The people there who produced sugar got into deep problems—the sugar refinery had to close eventually—because of the production of sugar beet in the EU. I know that that will be phased out, as will the subsidy. What are we doing to support fairly-traded sugar in such places as Nyeri, instead of giving subsidies for sugar beet production in the EU?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. She will know that one of the real successes of the UK presidency of the EU last year was the reform of sugar subsidy and production. Many companies in this country have taken advantage of that. British Sugar maintains its quota and is looking to diversify into biofuels through that. There are many ways in which sugar farmers and companies can diversify their crops. The fundamental reforms were put in place during this Government’s presidency of the EU and they have brought about the prosperity in developing countries about which my hon. Friend talks.

Carbon Emissions

5. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on progress in reducing carbon emissions from the Government estate. (132362)

I am very glad to see the hon. Gentleman in the Chamber.

I, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and other Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministers, have held recent discussions with many colleagues from other Departments on the subject of reducing carbon emissions from the Government estate as part of wider discussions on combating climate change.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer—I am grateful to be here as well.

In June 2006, the Government said that their target was for the whole Government estate to go carbon neutral by 2012 and for emissions to be reduced by 30 per cent. by 2020. What progress have they made on achieving that?

We are making progress, but I have to admit that we are not moving as quickly as we would like, or as quickly as we need to to achieve our targets. We will meet our commitment of making the Government estate carbon neutral by 2012. I believe that the revised sustainable operations targets for the Government estate that were launched in June 2006 are stretching. We are making progress on a whole range of areas, such as on schools, about which an announcement has been made this week. DEFRA, along with other Government Departments, is implementing carbon management programmes that will have a significant impact in future years.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is about not only the estate and buildings, but the people who work in those buildings? May we have a more vigorous education programme to raise the environmental knowledge and expectations of the people who work in those buildings? Will he especially consider the old Metropole building, which is just a stone’s throw from this building? That massive, old Ministry of Agriculture building, which has fantastic architecture, has been boarded up for many years. If it were turned into a centre for small campaigning groups and environmental groups, the building would be brought to life and would represent a great use of the Government estate.

My hon. Friend makes the good point that people’s use of energy in buildings is critical. That is one of the reasons why DEFRA is running a big switch campaign to encourage people to switch off lights and energy appliances when they are not being used, which can make a significant difference.

I hear what my hon. Friend says about the Metropole building and I will make inquiries into the situation. Over the past couple of years, DEFRA has been in a period of transition. We have moved into new buildings, refurbished buildings and vacated buildings that are still part of the DEFRA estate. That has not helped our carbon footprint, but we hope to make significant improvements in future years. I will examine the case to which my hon. Friend refers.

Does the Minister accept that it is sometimes better not to penalise people for doing what they have done for a long time, but to create energy that is less polluting? Why do the Government not direct more of their attention to the development of biofuels and clean-coal technology—that is, not to beating people, but to developing energy that is less polluting, and that therefore emits less carbon into the environment? I am sick to death of people being penalised, rather than being encouraged to do what is right through the Government’s development of new forms of energy.

It is perfectly right to say that we need to encourage people to adopt lower-carbon lifestyles. That is one of the reasons why Labour announced earlier this week that it would provide free real-time displays that people can decide to put into their homes, and which will show them, in real time, the amount of energy use in their home. That can make significant difference. Evidence shows that people who take advantage of the displays save anything up to 15 per cent. on their normal energy bills by becoming more energy-conscious. It is right that we should focus on campaigns to encourage people to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. That is one of the reasons why the Government launched our act on CO2 campaign. A great deal can be done to raise people’s awareness of their carbon footprint, and to encourage them to do more about it.

Further to the Minister’s answer, what discussions has he had with the House authorities? The issue is not just about the Government estate. When we look at the contribution that individuals can make, we should remember that there is a vast contribution that Members of the House, and particularly their staff, could make in their offices. I am delighted to say that there has been a major behaviour change on the part of staff in my office, and I would recommend such changes to others. I hope that the Minister will help to ensure that lights, and particularly PCs, are switched off, and that there are more and improved recycling facilities in the House.

My hon. Friend is right: there is a lot that we can all do. MPs and people in our offices, both in the constituency and on the parliamentary estate, can all do more to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has had discussions and has raised the matter with the House authorities. There are clearly some difficulties with historic buildings that will never be massively energy-efficient, but there are things that can be done, including on the parliamentary estate, and people from right across Government need to consider them.

Combined heat and power is a technology with great potential to reduce the amount of waste in our energy system. Will the Minister update the House on the progress that the Government have made on their target to deploy that technology across the public sector?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of combined heat and power. We are seeing progress with CHP, but again, perhaps that progress is not as fast as we would like. That is one of the issues that we have discussed following the publication of the energy review, and in the lead-up to the publication of the energy White Paper. We believe that combined heat and power, which results in additional energy efficiencies, needs to be made more widespread, not just among those who use energy on a large, industrial scale, although there is significant potential in that regard, but when it comes to CHP district and community heating systems. Those are areas in which we are trying to encourage CHP, through the development of energy service companies, or ESCOs.

Does the Minister agree that the issue is not just the Government’s buildings, but their car service? As I cycle in and out of the Palace of Westminster, I have ample opportunity to observe the ministerial cars. I am delighted that everyone on the Government Front Bench this morning is leading by example with their hybrid cars, but there are still some Cabinet-level Jaguars around the place. As a Coventry-born woman, I am reluctant to encourage people to get rid of their Jaguars, but there is a point at which politicians have to lead by example. Will the Minister encourage his Cabinet colleagues to take up hybrid cars?

I think that my hon. Friend will probably find that the whole DEFRA team walked here this morning, rather than getting in our cars. That is the right thing to do, because we always say that we should avoid CO2 emissions first, then try to reduce them. Hybrid vehicles are certainly a way of reducing CO2 emissions. I do not think that the data are particularly reliable, but there has been a significant 10 per cent. fall in emissions from the Government’s road transport activities since 2002-03. As I said, the data are not as robust as we would like, and we need to do more to check them. We need to do more, too, on the procurement of new low-carbon vehicles. That is exactly what we are doing, as well as converting some Jaguars and other vehicles so that they can use biofuel.

It is obviously crucial that DEFRA and the Government should set an example, and it is rather worrying that the figures from the Sustainable Development Commission suggest that DEFRA’s own emissions have increased three times as rapidly as the overall national average. However, the quantification of the Government’s impact is crucial, too. As I challenged the Secretary of State in the Budget debate, can the Minister give an estimate of the impact on carbon emissions of the country as a whole of the new measures announced in the Budget?

First, on the DEFRA office estate, if the hon. Gentleman was listening a few moments ago, he would have heard me say that DEFRA has undergone a period of transition, moving into new buildings, refurbishing some buildings, and vacating others that are still part of the Government office estate. That means that our carbon dioxide impact has not made as much progress as we would have liked. In fact, as he rightly said, it has gone in the wrong direction. However, if we look at Nobel house, out of which the ministerial team operates, in 2001-02, 573 kg of carbon per member of staff was emitted, but that has gone down to 446 kg of carbon per member of staff. That shows the sort of improvement that can be made through refurbished offices and more efficient use of office space. Regarding the question that the hon. Gentleman posed about the Budget and the way in which it addresses carbon targets, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, as he knows, has promised to write to him on the matter, and I am sure that that letter will provide all the clarification that he needs.

I find it astonishing that the Secretary of State could claim in the Budget debate that the Budget

“took important steps forward on curbing domestic emissions and contributing to international emissions reduction.”—[Official Report, 26 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1180.]

I await his letter, as we still have no estimate from him of the impact of the Budget. How on earth can he make those claims if he has no idea what the impact of the Budget is? Clearly, given his failure to respond so far he still has no idea of the impact of the Budget. Well, I will tell him—it is 0.15 per cent. of carbon emissions or 330,000 tonnes, which is negligible.

I do not think that we need to hear perorations or lectures from the Liberal Democrats on such issues, as they voted against air passenger duty increases, which will have the benefit of reducing carbon dioxide by 300,000 to 500,000 tonnes. We have a climate change programme that is on course to achieve our 2020 targets. The draft Climate Change Bill, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, will make us the first country in the world to legislate to put in place a legal framework for reducing carbon emissions. We will set up a committee on climate change, which will advise us on trajectories. I do not believe that any other major industrialised country has done more than we have done to tackle climate change, but we need to do more, and we are committed to do so. A range of policy initiatives in the energy White Paper and other measures in due course will show how we will continue to make progress on some stretching targets.

The Minister’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) was extremely worrying. We know that Labour Ministers are failing miserably to deliver their manifesto pledge of 10 GW of combined heat and power generating capacity by 2010, and a year of “Brains” at the helm has not made a jot of difference. Will the Minister tell us specifically how the Government are getting on with meeting their own target for CHP installation in their buildings? They were supposed to have 15 per cent. by 2010; will they achieve that figure? This matter is entirely under the DEFRA team’s personal control. Can we have a personal assurance that the target will be met?

We are committed to our CHP target. The hon. Gentleman should look at the detail of our action, for example, on the phase 2 national allocation plans for the EU emissions trading scheme, where we have provided greater incentives to the emergence of CHP. In the Government office estate, DEFRA has been examining the potential not only for CHP but for the further development of renewable technologies. We think that there are significant opportunities for biomass, in which a number of hon. Members are especially interested, and we have just started construction of a new building in Alnwick that will use a range of renewable technologies. Approximately two thirds of the DEFRA estate’s energy needs are met by renewable energy sources. The target for the Government office estate as a whole is 10 per cent., but we have achieved 63 per cent., which shows the progress that DEFRA is making. We are leading by example in renewable energy.

Fishing Quotas

As the hon. Gentleman will know because we discussed it in a recent meeting, we are examining the possibility of reforming the quota allocation system affecting the under-10 m fishing fleet as part of our current fish quota management change programme.

I am advised that while our inshore fishing fleet remained tied up, unable to go out and fish because of the 50 kg per month quota allocation, Belgian beam trawlers moved into our fishing area within the 6-mile limit and hoovered up thousands of tonnes of sole. Will the Minister tell the House what he is doing to speed up the revision of the fishing limits, so that Thames estuary fishermen get a proper limit of 12 miles and we stop the intrusion of foreign vessels?

I would be surprised if foreign vessels had come within the 6-mile limit—[Interruption.] Actually, the hon. Gentleman did say that foreign vessels had come within the 6-mile limit. If he would like to provide details, I shall certainly look into the matter, because that would be against the rules. However, as I am sure he knows, if other countries have a tradition of fishing in the area between the 6 and 12-mile limits, they have traditional rights, just as we have traditional rights off the coasts of other countries. We cannot escape the fact that we have been seriously over-fishing some stocks in recent years and they are extremely depleted, so we will have to take tough action.

My hon. Friend knows that the by-catch regulations for skate and dogfish, which were rushed through the Fisheries Council last December, are completely unworkable for the under-10 m fleet. I welcome what he said about trying to get those regulations changed, but will he tell the House the likely time scale and what prospects there are of securing change? While he is thinking about reforming the quota for the under-10 m fleet, will he give special consideration to long-lining, which is an environmentally sustainable form of fishing that needs to be encouraged? Long-lining involves just one hook and one fish, not great big nets full of dead fish which are then discarded, so can we treat it in a better way to encourage it? Long-lining is good for the environment, good for fishing and good for jobs.

I concur with my hon. Friend that the long-lining off Lowestoft falls into the category of a sustainable fishery, but long-lining is not necessarily sustainable. It can cause environmental problems—for example, it can pose a threat to albatrosses in the southern Atlantic. However, I shall look into the points that he makes.

We recently managed to swap some sole quota with the Germans to mitigate the impact felt by some of the under-10 m fleet in the Thames estuary and around our south-eastern coasts. We shall consider carefully what more we can do through the change programme that I outlined earlier.

The Minister will know that hand-liners employ a very good way of sustainable fishing and are big users of under-10 m boats, yet they are still caught within quotas. Is there any movement at all on taking them out of any quota system?

It depends on what stocks the hon. Gentleman is talking about. The simple answer is no. It would not be possible to create rules whereby fishermen using certain methods were allowed to catch whatever they liked whereas others were not. Quotas are an important means of controlling the level of fishing on stocks that may be depleted. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to imply that some of the hand-line catching that goes on off the Devon and Cornwall coast is very sustainable. I would encourage consumers always to ask about the provenance of their fish where possible, not least because of the pair-trawling problem with dolphins, and to go for line-caught, rather than net-caught, bass.

The Department’s under-10 m factsheet refers to

“estimates that it is now clear were seriously inaccurate”.

However, when I asked the Minister whether his Department had miscalculated the under-10 m quota, he simply answered—on 1 February at column 352—“No.” Would he now like to apologise for his Department’s miscalculation and put the record straight, because it is possible that he may have inadvertently misled the House?

No, because the estimates to which the hon. Gentleman refers were made in the 1980s under a Conservative Government.

Eco-debt

DEFRA is currently researching ways of calculating the embedded carbon in imported goods and assessing the international biodiversity impacts of goods imported to the UK. We have also given great prominence to the ideas of the WWF about so-called one-planet living, which makes the point that if all citizens of the world lived as we do, we would need three planets to support us rather than the one that we have. That suggests the scale of the eco-debt that my hon. Friend mentions.

The world as a whole is consuming beyond the capacity of its ecosystems to regenerate, while in the UK our 2007 consumption patterns mean that we are living beyond our natural resources and start to eat into nature’s capital from mid-April each year. Does the Minister agree that this arises mainly from declining UK food self-sufficiency, decreasing energy independence and ecologically wasteful trade? Should not our nation aim to live more sustainably within our environmental means?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He is a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which is conducting an inquiry that is relevant to his question; its Chairman is here as well. His point about energy independence is particularly important. We have been relatively independent over the past 20 or 30 years, but in an environmentally damaging way. The big challenge as our oil and gas supplies decline is to ensure that we replace them with low-carbon or zero-carbon sources of energy. That is what we are determined to do, because in that way we will tackle the flow of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Countries such as China and India argue that rich countries like us have a large eco-debt in the form of carbon concentrations already produced, and that therefore they should not exercise the same degree of restraint until their living standards have reached the same level. Does the Minister accept that argument?

I wholly accept the argument that countries such as India and China have not only a right but a duty to help themselves to develop, but they also have a duty and an opportunity to avoid the mistakes that we made. The old choice was economic development versus environmental protection; the new choice is about whether development is high-carbon or low-carbon. Our duty is twofold. We must put our own house in order and grow our economy while cutting our greenhouse gas emissions, as of course we have been doing under this Government, but we must also ensure that we help countries such as India and China and some of the poorest African countries to develop in a low-carbon way. That requires massive flows of finance, primarily not through aid programmes, which may be relevant as regards issues such as deforestation, but through the markets for carbon reduction that have been created in Europe and elsewhere. That is why the European emissions trading scheme is so important and why measures such as the clean development mechanism are so vital.

It may help the House if I note that, this evening, I am meeting the Indonesian Forestry Minister. That is obviously important because of deforestation, which represents nearly 20 per cent. of the world’s greenhouse gases, but I hope that it is also significant because Indonesia will be the host country for the next United Nations framework convention on climate change in December. The Minister for Forestry, who is visiting this country, will play a critical role, along with other colleagues in the Indonesian Government, including the Prime Minister. It is strongly in our interest to work closely with Indonesia.

It may also be useful if I report that Sir Nicholas Stern’s visit to Indonesia—

My hon. Friend knows that domestic aviation is included in the targets that were adopted under the Kyoto protocol. Clause 16 makes special provision to include aviation and shipping in our climate change targets as soon as two issues are resolved. The first is the international discussion on calculating the right level of aviation emissions because there are specific issues about emissions at high altitudes. The second is to which country aviation emissions should be apportioned. If one is flying from country A to country B, to which country does one apportion the emissions? As soon as we have resolved those matters, we can include aviation and shipping in the Climate Change Bill. We now have agreement throughout Europe to include aviation in the European Union emissions trading scheme by 2010 or 2011, which suggests that, although the time scale is longer than we would like, it is not beyond reach.

Given the plan to increase by 10 times the biofuels that we use in this country, what steps are the Government taking to make certain that they are ethically sourced and, as far as possible, from the United Kingdom, so that we do not go on contributing to the destruction of the rainforest in the name of the environment?

I agree, though I could not help noting the element of surprise in the hon. Gentleman’s voice when he complimented the shadow Secretary of State on an unusually good question. That he was surprised is the only conclusion that we can draw from his remark. I do not know whether I can provide an unusually good answer to match. I am sure that I cannot.

The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) makes an important point. I presume that by “ethically sourced” he means sustainably sourced. If one is simply growing biofuels by tearing down rainforests, one does nothing for the environment. Obviously, we are pursuing the matter at European level. The Environment Council has done important work, including with Commissioner Dimas, to ensure that European targets involve sustainably sourced biofuels.

The hon. Gentleman made a critical point about British sourcing. There is a shared agenda about the reform of the common agricultural policy, especially set-aside. Ending set-aside provides potential for us to grow biofuels in this country in a way that does not compromise food or other environmental matters. We have made that point regularly recently. My recent discussions suggest that the UK agenda for CAP reform has growing support. The health check that Commissioner Fischer Boel will conduct next year offers a genuine opportunity not only to do something about milk quotas and other matters, but to take forward the set-aside agenda, which could have big environmental benefits.

Bovine Tuberculosis

The Government will continue to take measures aimed at bearing down on TB. Our decisions will be based on the science and on what is practical and cost-effective, and will ensure a fair balance of the costs of the disease between farmers and the taxpayer.

In thanking the Minister for that answer, may I remind him that 58 weeks tomorrow will mark the start of the consultation exercise that the Government carried out on ways of controlling bovine TB using culling? He will also be aware that herd restrictions are now at their highest level for a decade, and that the cost to his Department of dealing with the disease is now about £90 million a year. The Independent Scientific Group will report at the end of April, but the Secretary of State has confirmed in a letter to me that, following the ISG’s findings,

“We have no timetable for an announcement.”

There is a great deal of uncertainty in the farming world. Will the Minister now tell the House what timetable is to be followed, and what criteria his Department will deploy to assess the ISG’s findings and to come to a conclusion on this matter, once and for all?

The right hon. Gentleman will know, because he chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and because he has followed this issue closely, that we have not yet received the final report from the Independent Scientific Group that carried out the badger culling trials, although we expect it some time this summer. He will also know, because he has studied the matter closely, that this is a complex issue. There are no simple solutions, as some people claim, not least because the science shows that piecemeal localised badger culling could actually make the disease considerably worse. There would be considerable organisational challenges involved in any potential badger cull, but we have been discussing those with the farming industry over the past few months and trialling various culling methods. A decision will be made based on the science and on what is practicable and deliverable.

What conclusions has my hon. Friend come to about the levels of compensation to farmers hit by bovine TB? How do they compare with the overall economic impact on farmers hit by a bovine TB breakdown?

I would refer my hon. Friend to a number of independent reports, including one from the National Audit Office that concluded that serious overpayment was going on under the previous individual valuation system. As I said in my answer to the original question, it is important when dealing with animal diseases such as these that it is not only the taxpayer who has to foot the bill, and that the agriculture industry itself should have a responsibility to maintain good biosecurity and disease control measures. We are obliged to pay compensation for cattle that are culled as a result of TB, but we think that the new table valuations provide a fairer balance between the costs that are expected to be carried by the taxpayer and those that are expected to be carried by the farmers.

Some time ago, I asked the Minister what the total cost to his Department of bovine TB had been over the past 10 years. He was unable to give me the total cost at that stage. Will he do so now, and, if not, will he put the information in the Library?

Yes, I will certainly do that. I can also tell the right hon. Gentleman that the costs have reduced significantly over the past year, partly because of the fall in the number of cases last year, but also because of the change in the compensation system that I have just outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins).

I hear what my hon. Friend has said. This is a devilishly difficult disease. Would he accept, however, that no country in the world will use a culling policy as the primary way of controlling bovine TB? Most scientists now recognise that there has to be a solution involving vaccination, yet that solution always seems to be 10 years away. Experiments are being carried out in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) to determine whether a BCG vaccine can be used on badgers. Is it not about time that we put proper resources into such research and, along with our friends in Ireland and New Zealand, tried to eradicate this disease in the way that we have done with human TB, namely through vaccination?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, wherever this disease occurs around the world, wildlife controls alone are not the answer. In fact, every other country that has bovine TB concentrates on cattle controls as the most effective and useful way of controlling it. We are investing a considerable amount of money in vaccine research—we have invested £10.5 million over the past seven years—and we have started to test candidate vaccines in naturally affected cattle and badgers. So we are making progress, but, as my hon. Friend will understand, we cannot always hurry science.

Last night, I had a long conversation with a constituent from Hengoed who was desperate because bovine TB had now spread to that area, where it had not been seen before. The Minister’s answers are complacent and unacceptable. I visited Michigan 18 months ago, and countries such as America are bearing down on the disease—

Will the Minister take lessons from countries such as America where, by bearing down on the disease in both cattle and wildlife, the disease has been eradicated?

Of course we will learn lessons where we can from other countries that have had similar disease experiences. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know from all his globetrotting, this is a complex disease. We are not the only country in the world to face the challenge of it. Across the Irish sea, the Republic of Ireland has had an even more serious problem than we have. We have implemented a package of measures. Opposition Members always concentrate on badger culling, but they have little to say about the very important cattle control measures, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) referred to, which are far more important in terms of controlling the disease.

Ten years ago, the then Minister responsible, the noble Lord Rooker, said that bovine TB was the most serious animal health issue facing this country apart from the tail-end of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which affected us then. Yet here we are, with the number of incidents going up again, returning to the trend after last year’s reduction, and still we do not have a decision on culling and have made no progress on many other areas—for example, the use of gamma interferon testing is at 1 per cent. of total tests.

Does the Minister agree that putting the issue into the too difficult file is not good enough for a disease that is affecting countless herds and, more seriously, countless families and households up and down the western side of the country? Will he introduce a comprehensive package of measures? Yes, we must develop vaccines; yes, we must use pre-movement testing, on which we support him, much to the disgust of some of people in the industry; but we must also test other systems, such as polymerase chain reaction, which we have constantly pressed on him, and actually make a decision. Rumours abound that the Government are about to announce licences on badger culling. Will he tell us: yes or no?

The issue has not been put in the too difficult file. As the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) implied when he asked about how much it is costing, the Government—the taxpayer—are paying considerable sums, both in trying to control and reduce the disease and on research. As the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who chairs the EFRA Committee, was gracious enough to acknowledge, it is a difficult and complex problem.

The hon. Gentleman will be interested to learn that we have rolled out a threefold increase in gamma interferon tests in the past few months. We think that we have managed to catch a significant number of animals and therefore avoid further spread of the disease in a number of areas.

Packaging Waste

9. What steps the Government are taking to reduce packaging waste; and if he will make a statement. (132371)

Packaging recycling has doubled since 1997 and statutory binding targets will ensure further improvements in the years to come. All the major retailers and several major brands have also agreed to a Government request to reduce the amount of packaging in the first place, designing out packaging growth by 2008 and delivering absolute reductions in packaging by March 2010.

Will the Minister consider implementing the principles set out in the Retail Packaging (Recycling) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), which would impose on larger retailers a duty to take back excess packaging from customers, a system that works well in Switzerland and Germany?

I am afraid that I have not seen full details of that Bill. It would, of course, be subject to discussions with Government colleagues, but it sounds like a very good idea and I would like to have a look at it.

As we have just left the season that has some of the most wasteful packaging—the Easter period with Easter eggs—will the Government consider coupling the measures the Minister mentioned with a mandatory requirement or a strong recommendation for local authorities to consider recycling not only tin and glass when they offer such a facility to residents? They do that because those products are quite heavy and they reach their targets quicker, whereas the packaging on an Easter egg, for instance, is plastic and cardboard.

A growing number of local authorities are recycling plastic and cardboard, but my hon. Friend is right to draw attention both to the excess packaging around Easter eggs and to the difficulties involved in our weight-based system for recycling targets. That is one of the issues that we are examining as part of the review of our waste strategy, and we intend to publish a new strategy shortly, which I hope will deal with the problem identified by my hon. Friend.

Marine Environment

10. What his objectives are for new measures to protect the marine environment (a) around the UK and (b) in the EU. (132372)

The measures in our Marine Bill White Paper published last month will, when enacted, make the UK an international leader in marine environmental policy. We are also continuing to play a leading role in Europe to improve the operation of the common fisheries policy, and to persuade the Commission and other member states to pay more heed to protection of our seas.

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about proposals for ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth, which runs up my constituency? Fin whales have been sighted in those waters very recently. Any catastrophe involving oil in that beautiful stretch of water would be devastating.

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern, and I will look into the matter, although as she knows it may well be devolved.

We have been working with the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly in recent months on our Marine Bill White Paper, which will address some of my hon. Friend’s concerns. I hope that that co-operation and commitment to the marine environment will remain after the Scottish elections in May.

Belgium and the Netherlands have placed restrictions on marine aggregate dredging in their waters. We now export 30 per cent. of the sand and gravel that is dredged from our waters to those countries and to France. Does the Minister intend to take measures to restrict the damage caused to our marine environment as a result of measures taken by other countries to protect theirs?

Marine aggregate dredging is regulated in this country. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is calling for more regulation, in contrast to what his hon. Friends were saying earlier.

This is one of the important issues that we are considering in the round as part of our Marine Bill White Paper proposals. For far too long we have viewed the oceans in a piecemeal way, approaching the issue with different sectoral interests rather than bringing everything together in a strategic and holistic way as we hope to do when the Bill has been passed.

I welcome the Bill and the White Paper, which some of us will debate later today. Within what time scale—subject to legislation—does my hon. Friend expect the marine management organisation to be established, and will he ensure that the long-term data sets to which it will need access are protected in the forthcoming funding from the research council?

I am afraid that the research council is not part of my brief, but I will ensure that one of my colleagues writes to my hon. Friend about it. As for the time scale, we want to introduce the legislation as soon as possible. It was a manifesto commitment that we would deliver it during this Parliament, and I am confident that we will fulfil that commitment. But we must get it right rather than rushing it, because it deals with a very important issue.

I note that my hon. Friend has already made a spirited bid for the marine management organisation to be based in Plymouth, championing her city as she always does.

English Farming

11. What assessment he has made of the effect of the transfer of funds from pillar I to pillar II on the future viability of English farming. (132373)

As a result of the decision to co-finance voluntary modulation for environmental schemes in England at a rate of 40 per cent., more funding overall will go into pillar II rural development, from which both farmers and the environment will benefit.

In evidence to the Select Committee, the National Farmers Union estimated that of funds used to support agriculture under pillar II, only 40 per cent. would accrue to the profitability of the industry. Before rushing into ever more voluntary modulation, as opposed to what the Commission has made compulsory, will the Minister ensure that farming businesses still exist to deliver the pillar II programmes which everyone considers so important, particularly in the hill areas?

Our position is clear: we believe in targeting public money for public good. That means phasing out subsidy dependency and paying farmers for the environmental benefits and the landscape management that only they can provide. We are trying to make that compulsory in the health check, as I believe the hon. Gentleman is aware.

Bovine Tuberculosis

12. When he expects to announce the Government’s response to the public consultation on badger culling and bovine tuberculosis. (132375)

As suggested in previous answers, we currently have no set date, but the final report of the independent scientific group that ran the badger culling trials is expected this summer.

I listened with interest to the earlier debate and to the answers that the Minister gave to questions on this issue. He should bear in mind that the link between badger TB and bovine TB was established as long as 10 years ago in 1997 by Professor Krebs, and that up to May last year there were 859 new cases of bovine TB. When can we be given an exact date for when the consultation will be brought before the House and action will be taken to tackle this desperately important issue?

We will have an exact date when we are ready to announce one. The hon. Gentleman is right that the link between badgers and bovine TB has been known for some time, but what was not known, because no previous Government—including previous Conservative Governments—had done the research, was the extent of the relationship between bovine TB and badgers and the infection rates in cattle. That is exactly why this Labour Government when we came into office in 1997 set up the badger culling trials. They took place over several years. They were delayed somewhat by the outbreak of foot and mouth but they have now finished, and the hon. Gentleman and other Members should read the final report before they reach their conclusions.