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Environmental Issues

Volume 459: debated on Wednesday 2 May 2007

5. What discussions he has had with the First Minister on environmental issues affecting Wales which are negotiated in Europe. (134263)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet Welsh Assembly Government colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, including environmental issues negotiated in Europe.

The EU, the United Kingdom and, indeed, the Welsh Administration all share a concern about the collapse of some species in Wales. There was a target—[Hon. Members: “Tories!”] I am sure that some are also concerned about the resurgence of the Tories in Wales. I am particularly concerned about the 81 per cent. decline in the number of curlew, for instance, since 1993, and the water vole has also declined by some four fifths in the past 20 years or so. I do not blame the Government for this, but what can the Minister and the Welsh Administration do to reverse this decline in biodiversity in Wales and to establish better wildlife conditions for the benefit of all the people in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question. It is true that certain species have been recorded as being in decline, whereas others are improving. Species such as the otter are now returning to many Welsh rivers in which they have not been seen for decades, so the picture is mixed. However, it is important that factors such as climate change be addressed as well, because they may well have an effect on biodiversity not just in Wales, but throughout the world. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman read the Climate Change Bill, which will put in legislation clear targets to try to address the threat that we all face from climate change.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the National Assembly for Wales has a central role to play in protecting our environment and combating climate change? Will he support proposals for new law-making powers for the Assembly to tackle environmental pollution in all its forms?

Yes, indeed, my hon. Friend raises an important point. Issues relating to climate change and how we tackle it are now the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. For example, I know their commitment to trying to achieve, by 2011, the target of all new buildings in Wales being carbon neutral. That is the sort of policy needed to tackle climate change, and we will also address it through technology and encouraging people and institutions to act more responsibly.

Is the Minister aware that ground-level ozone and summer smog caused mainly by traffic emissions has killed an estimated 1,500 people in Wales since 1997? I am probably the first Member of Parliament to ride a Vectrix electric bike, launched yesterday, a zero carbon vehicle with a range of 68 miles for a 20p charge. Does the Minister agree that such technology will reduce health risks and will he join me and the Welsh Liberal Democrats in promoting the use and manufacture of such vehicles in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman is right that emissions are not only about climate change, but about health and the quality of the atmosphere. My official cars in London and Cardiff are electric hybrids. The Government have produced a list of top tips for smarter drivers which, if all motorists followed them, would reduce emissions by 5.5 million tonnes of CO2 a year and save more than £2 billion in fuel costs. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), it is important that individuals take the decision to address climate change in their habits, including the way in which they drive and the type of vehicles they use. That is part of the way in which we will tackle climate change.

When the Secretary of State has not been repeating election slogans like a parrot, he has forcibly and repeatedly supported the proposed 200 turbine wind farm at Gwynt y Môr, to the extent that he has even attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) for raising his constituents’ concerns about the massive impact of that environmental project. In the past 48 hours, the First Minister has surprisingly and cynically taken the Conservative line and joined us in calling for a public inquiry. Will the Minister now condemn the First Minister for dumping official Labour policy on that wind farm for the sake of a few votes?

That policy has certainly not been dumped. The fact is that last year the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) came to north Wales, shortly before announcing that he was going to put a wind turbine on his house, and described the Gwynt y Môr development as a massive bird blender. He may have changed his view, but I can assure the hon. Lady that the First Minister has not changed his view on his support for renewable energy. Yet again, the Conservatives claim to have a grand policy in favour of renewable energy, but when it comes to hard decisions, they fluff them.

My right hon. Friend and I regularly meet Welsh Assembly Government colleagues to discuss issues affecting Wales, including the environment.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that Wales is on target to meet its national target to increase recycling and composting rates to 40 per cent. by 2009-10? What discussions has he had with the First Minister about that?

The recycling and waste disposal schemes being pursued by the Welsh Assembly Government are on track and we have discussed these matters. Wales has a big and ambitious recycling and waste disposal programme at all levels, and encourages households to do the same.