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environment, food and rural affairs

Volume 475: debated on Thursday 1 May 2008

The Secretary of State was asked—

Flood Prevention

Total Government funding for England in 2008-09 is £650 million, of which £559 million is flood defence grant in aid disbursed by the Environment Agency and including local authority and internal drainage board capital projects. The Environment Agency flood defence budget includes a further £20.1 million funded from other sources, and there is a planned local levy programme of around £38 million.

As the Minister will know, those who ask for works to be carried out locally are always told that the budget is under pressure, but the Environment Agency is still able to find the funds to sponsor a flood impact study conducted by Cranfield university. My constituent Mr. Jeremy Chamberlayne put it well when he said:

“This everlasting reviewing and impact studying is beginning to get up my nose! It’s action we want and I seriously fear that the Environment Agency is incapable of delivering it”.

What can the Minister tell us today to change my constituent’s mind?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. I hear people express that sentiment, but it is based on a misunderstanding. The flood defence capital projects and maintenance projects have been enhanced month on month for eight or nine years. Of course the Environment Agency, as a responsible body, seeks to learn more about flood risk—particularly in the light of the lessons learned from surface as opposed to river flooding, which is one of the aspects recognised in the Pitt review.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he seeks. Action certainly is being taken, and if he visits the Environment Agency I am sure that its representatives will show him the projects.

While we are on the subject of misunderstandings and the Environment Agency, may I ask whether the Minister saw a letter in The Daily Telegraph on, I think, Monday or Tuesday from the agency’s chief executive, Lady Young? In that letter, she contradicted “Dod’s Parliamentary Companion” by saying that she was not a Labour peer, which according to “Dod’s” she has been for many years. Can the Minister clear that up for us?

I hope you will forgive me, Mr. Speaker, for not reading The Daily Telegraph on Monday, Tuesday or indeed any other day. I do the crossword—it runs in my family—and it is a fine newspaper, but I do not think that this is really a matter for me. I believe that you would pull me up if I answered the question, Mr. Speaker.

Last year, the Prime Minister said:

“In addition to that”

—the money allocated—

“under the Bellwin scheme, it will be open to local authorities to be reimbursed for the additional costs that they face, and I know that those requests will be looked at sympathetically.”—[Official Report, 27 June 2007; Vol. 462, c. 325.]

In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper), and indeed in the whole of Gloucestershire, there is a £16 million black hole that must be filled by the council. Moreover, I have been informed by the leader of Gloucestershire county council that it has received no new money to reduce the risk of flooding in the county. Can the Minister tell us why the Secretary of State’s constituency and other urban constituencies receive money for flood defences, while all that rural constituencies such as mine and my hon. Friend’s are given is money for flood impact and feasibility studies?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but I do not accept that the Government, through either local authorities or the Environment Agency, do not spend money in rural areas. That is simply not the case.

The hon. Lady referred to Gloucestershire county council. I believe the constituency of the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) is in Gloucestershire. The Environment Agency provides moneys for flood defences, and, as I think most local authorities recognise, the Bellwin scheme has worked very well. The Minister for Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), has done a terrific job with that scheme, and with the solidarity fund.

I do not accept the idea that we give money to urban areas but not to rural areas. I suspect that there is a bit of 1 May behind that question, and I think it is unfair.

Renewable Electricity Generation

2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on the development of renewable forms of electricity generation. (202788)

I regularly discuss a range of issues with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, including the importance of renewable energy in reducing CO2 emissions.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He will be aware that the Government’s performance and innovation unit has said:

“A sustained programme of investment in currently proposed nuclear power plants could adversely affect the development of smaller scale technology.”

When will his and other Departments work together to make sure that renewables are given a fair chance?

In fairness, I think the hon. Gentleman would recognise that since the renewables obligation was introduced in 2002, renewable generation in this country has nearly trebled in size. That is a practical example of change taking place. We have recently consulted on the nature of the renewables obligation certificates, and we will introduce double ROCs, which will encourage some of the newer technologies. We are, of course, a leading country in the world for investment in offshore wind power, and the Government are very committed to a transformation in the investment in renewables. The simple reason why we are where we are is that we had North sea oil and gas. I think that the whole House recognises that, but we are committed to change, and the policies that we are putting in place will ensure that it happens.

I am sure my right hon. Friend will be as concerned as I am at today’s news that Shell is pulling out of the London Array, which will be the UK’s biggest offshore wind farm. When it is ever suggested that there should be a windfall tax on the vast profits of energy companies, they say that they need the money to invest in new technologies. In view of Shell’s announcement today, should that policy be revisited by the Government?

I have to say that I would describe the news that Shell wishes to sell its stake as very disappointing, and that many people would want to understand why that was the case, especially in a week in which the company has announced record profits. What I would say on the Government’s part is that we have given, and will continue to give, full support to this important project, which, when completed, will produce enough electricity to power about one in four homes in Greater London.

The Secretary of State will know that planning applications for wind turbines on industrial estates are beginning to show themselves. I know of one for a 147 m tower on an area containing 161 businesses and covering 8,000 sq ft. Clearly there must be some limit on the number of wind turbines on industrial estates—[Interruption.] Clearly there must be some limit. What is that limit? How does that impact on fair trading, given the recognition that we need to ensure that access to alternative power sources is available to all industry?

What I would say to the hon. Gentleman—I am comparing the two questions that we have just heard—is that we cannot have it both ways; there are choices to be made about how we generate our energy. It is for the planning authorities to take decisions about individual applications, but if we talk to renewable energy companies, including those involved in wind power, they will tell us that in the UK, the regulatory regime is not a big obstacle as far as financial incentive is concerned; they will tell us that the obstacle is the planning system. We need to examine carefully, in the end, the decisions made at local level on whether permission is given or not, because those decisions will have a huge impact on the speed with which we are able significantly to increase our renewable energy generation.

I suspect that the Secretary of State may share the disappointment felt by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Government felt it necessary yesterday to vote against new clause 4 of the Energy Bill, which would have paved the way for the introduction of renewable energy tariffs. Will he assure the House that he will hold discussions with ministerial colleagues to find alternative ways of ensuring that tariffs are introduced that will enable and encourage decentralised renewable energy generation?

I am very committed, as I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform is, to doing precisely that. That is why the Minister for Energy announced a couple of months ago that, as part of the renewable energy strategy, one of the things on which we will consult in the summer, because we are determined to make progress, is, indeed, feed-in tariffs for microgeneration. One has only to look at a country such as Germany to see the impact that such a system has had. We will examine that as part of the strategy, and we will publish our proposals in due course.

I am listening to the Government describing us as leading on offshore wind power, yet Shell is pulling out of key offshore wind farm projects in this morning’s newspapers. When we look further at the Government’s biomass co-firing feedstocks, we find that a fifth of those are coming from palm oil products, which are causing deforestation and loss of habitat for the orang-utan. We know that things are not being sustainably sourced, and we know that we will not even be close to meeting the EU target of 20 per cent. by 2020 if we lose wind farms and Shell’s investment. I do not think that the Minister’s response that it is all very disappointing is good enough. Will he please see what he can do to try to meet these targets, which the whole House would support?

The Government are responsible for many things, but the decision that Shell has taken is not one of them. Shell made it clear in its statement that the regulatory framework that the Government have set is not the reason for its decision. I said in answer to the earlier question that many people would like to know the reason because Shell has spoken previously about its commitment to investment in renewables, and this is an important test. I hope that the project will be sustained.

On offshore wind, 3.3 GW already have permission. Round 2 should deliver another 7 GW. The Government want a further major expansion up to 25 GW, so we are serious about this.

On biofuels, Ed Gallagher is carrying out the review. As far as the climate is concerned, there are good biofuels and bad biofuels, and we have to be able to distinguish between the two. The review will be important, but we need to encourage the right kind of biofuels. We also need to encourage the second generation of biofuels, and we are determined to do that.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, will he remind him that it is profoundly wrong for politicians or political parties who advocate renewable energy to then deny applications involving that technology? That is the case with the nimby Scottish National party Administration in Scotland.

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I made the same point a moment ago. We have a choice to make. It is instructive to compare and contrast the policies advocated from the Opposition Benches with the decisions taken by the representatives of those same political parties when it comes to individual planning applications. In the end, we have to be held to account for our decisions.

Global Food Prices

3. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the effects of the rise in global food prices. (202790)

With ministerial colleagues, I attended the food summit called by the Prime Minister on 22 April 2008. We discussed the causes and the consequences of the rise in food prices, especially for developing countries.

Much of the debate on this issue is focused on the impact of biofuels, but does my right hon. Friend accept that increased meat and dairy consumption, especially in countries such as China and India as they become more prosperous and adopt a western diet, is also a problem? Does he also agree that the introduction of ever more industrialised and intensive farming methods—trying to squeeze more meat or milk out of every animal and more animals into every acre—is not the answer?

There are several factors behind the recent rise in prices, such as the drought, especially in Australia, although it should produce much more wheat this year; the demand for meat and dairy products that is a result of growing prosperity in the developing world; the existing trade restrictions; and the growth in input prices. The rise in oil prices has a huge impact on fertiliser costs. First, the agricultural industry across the world, including in the UK, has to play its part in contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions. The second priority is to ensure that we protect those least able to deal with the consequence of rising food prices, both abroad and here in the UK.

The one bit of encouraging news is that if one looks at the price of wheat on the futures market for November 2008 and for 2009, the price quoted is around £140 a tonne, compared with about £170 currently. There has been a sharp spike, but the predictions are that we will see a decrease, although the price is unlikely to return to previous levels.

A plentiful supply of food for this country and for the world is dependent on the work of bees. Much concern has recently been expressed about the health of bees, certainly in this country. To draw the sting from that argument, the Government have launched a consultation process on bee health. However, that will report after this year’s pollination has been completed. In order to safeguard those food supplies that are dependent on bees, what help will the Secretary of State give to beekeepers now to ensure that the work of bees is undertaken properly this season?

I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern. That is why DEFRA is contributing £1.3 million to the bee health programme, the Welsh Assembly Government are making a contribution and there is an additional R and D budget.

The European countries are all concerned. We are looking with our European colleagues at what more might be done. The truth is that we do not fully understand the cause of some of the changes that we are seeing, in particular colony collapse disorder, of which reports have come from the United States of America. We are taking the matter seriously. We want to focus our money on research that will help us to find the answer so that we can deal with the problem.

The rise in food prices led to an almost hysterical attack on biofuels as part of the cause. It might be part of the cause. I was pleased to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about the other causes. Will he acknowledge the importance of not completely abandoning the research on sustainable biofuels in the future?

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We want biofuels that are better than the petrol and diesel that they are replacing. That is why we need better understanding of the facts and to encourage second-generation biofuels, because they will make an important contribution to helping us to meet the renewable energy targets. We do not want to support things that result in the kind of destruction that the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) referred to a moment ago. Three years ago, many Members of the House from all parties were signing early-day motions and encouraging movement on biofuels. We are learning as we go, and that applies to us all. We want to take the right decisions to support the right kind of biofuels.

The recent Government report on food shows that UK self-sufficiency in temperate or indigenous food products has fallen by about 10 per cent. over the past 10 years. That means that as a nation we are going into world markets, pushing up the prices and making food less available for poor countries. The best estimate of climate change suggests that agricultural productivity in northern Europe will remain about the same or even improve. We are a key factor in the production of sufficient food in the world. What are the Government doing to ensure that productivity in this country and across northern Europe is maintained?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in terms of the figures that he gives. If one goes back to before the second world war and after, we were less self-sufficient in food than we are today. The reason that production has come down from the peak of a decade or so ago is that we in Europe, along with others, have reformed the common agricultural policy. That is a good thing, too. That kind of production and its cost were not sustainable.

The market is sending a very clear signal. The prospects for the farming industry are, overall, pretty bright, despite some of the difficulties that some sectors are facing. The people in the best position to encourage productivity are those in the farming industry itself, as they have the skills to encourage people to come in. We will need to play our part in helping to feed not just the population of this country—6.2 million human beings—but the 9 billion that we might have in the world in 50 years’ time.

Two years ago, the Government published their “Vision for the CAP”, in which they clearly stated that domestic production was not necessary for the food security of this country because we were a trading nation. Is that still the Government’s policy? If it is, how does it fit with the Secretary of State’s answer to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) about the importance of British production? Either the Government have changed their policy over the past two years, in which case they should say so, or they should tell us clearly that they do not believe that British food security involves domestic production.

By definition, British food security is very significantly dependent on domestic production, as the figures to which the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) just referred clearly show. [Interruption.] For the avoidance of any doubt, may I make it absolutely clear from the Dispatch Box that the Government continue to support a strong, thriving agricultural industry in this country? The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) raises an important point, because circumstances change and we need to reflect on the implications of that change. The question is: what are the right things to do to ensure that the challenge of the future is met, including by the contribution that British agriculture can make?

I do not think that the answer is to go back to where we were in the form of intervention, and the hon. Gentleman does not either. I make a genuine offer to him and to the farming industry, as I have on a number of occasions. I am open to a conversation and a discussion about the right things to do in response to the changing circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Coastal Flood Defences

Overall, spending in England for flood and coastal erosion risk management will rise from £600 million this year to a minimum of £650 million in 2008-09, £700 million in 2009-10 and £800 million in 2010-11.

The Environment Agency expects to spend approximately £90 million on capital works to address coastal flooding in this period, excluding maintenance work. At least £110 million has been allocated to local authorities for coastal protection, flooding and associated studies in the next three years.

But despite that, the Minister will be aware of the considerable concerns among landowners that the Government intend to abandon the maintenance of some areas of sea wall. Is he also aware that if a landowner wishes to carry out the repairs himself, he is required to obtain permission from the Environment Agency, from Natural England and, in some cases, even from the Marine Fisheries Agency? If the Government are not going to maintain the sea walls, will they please make it easier for landowners to do so?

I take the important point that the hon. Gentleman raises; it is incumbent on us to deal with it. The difficulty is—and I know he understands this because he has made this point—the fact that the schemes interact. A scheme on one part of the coast can impact further down the coast. The Environment Agency and Natural England have different considerations and there is the potential impact on marine life. However, he makes an important point and it is one that we need to address. I will come back to him on it.

Fifteen million people in Britain live near the coastline, which is being eaten away slowly by the impact of erosion, storms and rising sea levels. The Minister has said that he does not read the Telegraph, but did he read the article in The Guardian two weeks ago that suggested that Natural England plans to abandon in the medium term a nine-mile stretch of coastline in Norfolk, much visited by the people of the east midlands and Leicestershire, between the villages of Eccles and Winterton? Therefore, many homes will be lost in that vicinity. Will he deny those reports? We cherish the Wintertons in this place; we should cherish Winterton in Norfolk as well.

First of all, I can assure the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) that there is nothing personal in this.

I choose my words carefully as I look at the Gallery upstairs. I did read that article in The Guardian, but I do not read the paper everyday; I cannot do the crossword in The Guardian. I read the article and it caused some upset and worry. It is not the role of Natural England to take such decisions; responsibility is with the Environment Agency. The Government work closely with the other bodies, and this goes back to the point that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) made on the previous question. I can give the reassurance that my hon. Friend is looking for. There is no question of an abandonment of the nature that the article suggested.

I thank the Minister for his conciliatory response to my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), but may I reinforce the point that my hon. Friend made? There is a ludicrous complication that requires farmers to obtain a waste licence to deposit inert waste on to a sea wall. This is bureaucracy gone mad. Can the Minister confirm that he has received representations on the issue from the National Farmers Union? What action is he taking to resolve this question?

In all honesty, I cannot recall seeing representations from the NFU and I will immediately check the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I see that there may be a reason for some controls, because not everybody plays by the rules or by the intent of the rules. This is not a partisan point. If farmers are reporting to him that there is a problem, we need to address it and I will do so.

The Minister will know that, like many Labour-led organisations, the Environment Agency is seen as arrogant, undemocratic and unaccountable. Flood-hit communities in the East Riding are enraged by the agency’s insistence that its failure in basic maintenance did not contribute to the extent and damage of last year’s flooding. Will he and the Secretary of State undertake to break up the agency and ensure that those who carry out flood defence in our local communities are democratically accountable and seen to be so?

I do not think that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), if he were in the Chamber, would accept the premise of the question. The Environment Agency has had broad support for many years; the accusation that it is partisan is unfair. As for the accusation that it is undemocratic, it has a job to do, and part of that job is consultation, but not everybody will agree. I have visited the constituency of the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart), as he knows, and we are to have a further meeting on the points that he raises. The fact of the matter is that not everybody agrees on the way forward; there are disagreements among the different interest groups. The Environment Agency does a difficult job, and I am more than happy to defend it. On the specifics that the hon. Gentleman raised, we are due to discuss them, and I look forward to that meeting.

May I remind the Minister that in 1953, when the Lincolnshire sea coast defences were last seriously breached, thousands of lives were lost? Considerable numbers of my constituents live in homes that are below high sea levels, and they are not all readers of The Daily Telegraph. Will he give an assurance that the east Lincolnshire coastline defences will remain fully maintained?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reminder of the events of 1953. The lessons learned then were built into our plans for defence against the recent tidal surge. Thank goodness, the fine county of Lincolnshire was protected. The Government’s policy regarding the coast is of course made more difficult by the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) raised: by erosion, tilting, which is causing a gradual increase in sea level, and the impact of climate change. That has meant that since 1953 we have had to revisit the policy. That is why the outcome measures, as they are called—I would call them the criteria used—have recently been changed. I think that the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) will find, if he studies the criteria, that they are beneficial to his constituents. I am grateful to him for raising the point.

Those who live in coastal communities, especially those communities that are slightly more coastal than they were when people first moved in, want certainty on two points. The first is the issue of abandonment. The Minister’s apparently quite clear statement of a few seconds ago is clearly at variance with what other Government bodies are at least considering as an alternative, so does he speak with the authority of the full Government, and will none of the coastal communities be abandoned? The second point on which people want clarity is compensation. Given that the future of peoples’ homes is entirely dependent on government policy, to the extent that anybody can do anything about the problem, surely there is an issue of compensation. We are talking about individuals who may well have lived in one place for generations. If they choose to live there, do the Government say, “Well, that’s tough; if you live on the coast, you take the consequences”?

The hon. Gentleman raises two very important points. We have the strategy, through the adaptation toolkit, which we are working on, including by having discussions with hon. Members in all parts of the House and local authorities. That is about what specific measures we need to take to ensure that bureaucracies do not get in the way of protecting people’s communities. The adaptation toolkit is very important; I know that it does not sound it, but it is. Secondly, on abandonment, the difficulty in this debate is that, as I said before, the protection of one area of coastline can have an impact on another. It is simply not possible to protect everywhere. The word “abandonment” is, of course, very emotive.

The natural erosion of the coast, or increased erosion caused by climate change, is something that the Government could not stop in every instance, no matter how much money they spent. We need a fair set of criteria that are transparent and acceptable to the House, and that is the policy on which we are working. One can never talk about not abandoning areas if it is nature that is the problem. On the point about compensation, in the adaptation toolkit—

Order. I must try to get through the Order Paper. I ask hon. Members to appreciate that I must try to call those whose names are on the Order Paper.

Aviation (Emissions)

Aviation’s climate change impact is currently responsible for about 6 or 7 per cent. of the UK’s total carbon dioxide emissions and 1.6 per cent. of global CO2 emissions. Recent research in 2000 by the European Commission’s TRADEOFF project suggested that the total climate change impact of aviation up to 2000 was 1.9 times greater than its CO2 impact alone.

Given that the recent National Audit Office report showed that there have been no reductions in UK carbon dioxide emissions

“ if measured on the basis of the Environmental Accounts”,

which means that since 1990, if aviation and shipping emissions are included, we have had no reductions in CO2, may we have an assurance from the Secretary of State that when he talks to Transport Ministers about plans to build extra runways at Heathrow and elsewhere, and when the Climate Change Bill comes back to the House, aviation and shipping emissions will be included, not hidden away to pretend that they do not matter?

There is no question of hiding anything away or saying that it does not matter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill makes provision to include those emissions once there is international agreement on how to divide up responsibility, for example, for a flight that leaves Heathrow flown by an American airline, refuels in Dubai and ends up in Sydney, or for ships refuelling from bunker fuel ships in international waters with a Panamanian flag. It is a practical problem. The second thing that we are already doing will mean that aviation is included in the EU emissions trading scheme. As the hon. Gentleman will realise, that means that aviation emissions will be capped in Europe at their 2004-06 level and any growth above that will have to be compensated for by reductions elsewhere.

Further to that point, as my right hon. Friend is aware, aviation and shipping are included in the Bill, but he said that international agreement needs to come first. If we do not get international agreement, can he reassure me that we will go down the road of an agreement within the EU, and if that does not go ahead, we will take unilateral decisions and ensure reductions ourselves?

Of course, domestic emissions from aviation are already included in the totals in the Bill, and yes, it is true that Europe is leading because the international air transport organisation has not taken the lead in dealing with emissions from aviation. We are firmly committed to support Europe’s EU emissions trading scheme and aviation’s inclusion in it. That is the best hope we have in the world of making progress on the issue.

When considering carbon emissions from aviation, however, will the Secretary of State ensure that proper regard is given to the comparative emissions from the different modes of transport available to people? Will he bear in mind that in the highlands and islands, where the alternatives are often long road journeys and ferry journeys, aviation with a well-filled plane travelling not too high can be a carbon-efficient way of moving people around? Will he ensure that they are not penalised for using that mode of transport?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point. That is why, in looking at the operation of aviation’s inclusion in the EU emissions trading scheme, account has been taken of precisely that point in respect of a number of EU countries where those facts obtain.

Climate Change

6. What steps the Government have taken to encourage participation in combating climate change at local community level. (202793)

The Government have taken a range of initiatives to assist communities in combating climate change. The climate challenge fund has provided assistance to 83 projects led by local authorities and third sector organisations to encourage more positive attitudes towards tackling climate change. For example, it enabled the Women’s Institute to develop successful eco teams to raise awareness and encourage action to reduce emissions. The environmental action fund provided yearly grants of up to £250,000 to voluntary and community sector organisations to help them meet the Government’s sustainable development objectives in England.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but does she think more can be done to encourage local authorities and householders to do more?

Let me give my hon. Friend that assurance. We have introduced new Government performance framework indicators on climate change, which will enable local authorities to reduce their own operations’ emissions and per capita emissions from their community. We are rolling out the green homes service with the Act on CO2 advice line, which will enable householders to tackle their emissions through greater energy savings. We are tackling waste and water usage, and towards the end of the year we will roll out the green neighbourhoods scheme, looking for 100 selected neighbourhoods to help to reduce their carbon footprint by 60 per cent. We are looking for 3,000 households and focusing on the most hard to treat housing stock. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that we intend to do more, and that we have the co-operation of local authorities.

Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, should she not be braver and more proactive with regard to encouraging individuals to take action on climate change and their carbon footprints? She will be aware of schemes, operated by some local authorities, in which reductions in council tax are offered for climate change measures taken in the house. Would that not be a more proactive way forward, in encouraging people to get something back in return for taking care of the climate?

I agree with the hon. Lady about initiatives that local authorities can take; we have made it possible for them to do that. Furthermore, probably no Government in the world are more active than ours about messages to individuals. There is, for example, the Act on CO2 campaign. I have just written to the hon. Lady and all other hon. Members about the new nationwide advertising campaign that will begin next week; she will see that a great deal of effort has gone behind that. Some 40 per cent. of our CO2 emissions come from the actions of individuals. The Government are explaining that and we are enabling and encouraging people on how they can reduce their own emissions. That is a vital part of tackling dangerous climate change, and we are extremely active on it.

Kyoto Protocol

The United Kingdom is on course to achieve nearly double its commitment under the Kyoto protocol to cut, by 2008 to 2012, greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent. from the 1990 level. The UK is actively working with countries around the world, including the US, China and India, to secure a future international agreement for action on climate change.

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm that the basis of the Kyoto agreement is that it applies to the whole basket of greenhouse gases and not simply to CO2? Incidentally, the matter is of great interest to readers of the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser.

That newspaper is the second most important in the country, after the Oldham Evening Chronicle.

My right hon. Friend has made an important point; CO2 emissions are confused with the total basket of greenhouse gas emissions. CO2 does make up 85 per cent. of the problem, but our Kyoto commitment is about the total basket of the six greenhouse gases. As I have said, the United Kingdom is on course to achieve nearly double its commitment on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That is extremely important to the international negotiations and our domestic situation.

Post-Kyoto Agreement

The Kyoto protocol parties met in Bangkok from 31 March to 4 April to discuss how annexe 1 parties can reduce their emissions. The conclusions will be taken forward at the next United Nations framework convention on climate change meeting, which will take place in Bonn in June.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Does he agree with Nick Stern that we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by about 2 tonnes per capita, as was reported yesterday?

My hon. Friend’s question gives me the opportunity to express the profound appreciation—of the whole House, I am sure—of Nick Stern’s work on this issue. He has divided the emissions that it seems the world can cope with, if we achieve the global 50 per cent. reduction by 2050, by the expected population, and that is the kind of figure that we have ended up with. Our problem is that the current distribution per capita ranges from about 20 tonnes per head of population in the United States of America to about 0.1 tonnes per head of population in Ethiopia. How we move from where we are now to where we need to be is the great challenge faced in the negotiations.

Polyethylene Terephthalate

9. What assessment he has made of the UK’s capacity to recycle polyethylene terephthalate; and if he will make a statement. (202796)

The demand for recycled plastic is strong, from UK manufactures and overseas markets. The Waste and Resources Action Programme—WRAP—is a delivery body funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that works across the whole of the resource efficiency loop, as I am sure my hon. Friend is aware. WRAP will be helping the Government to deliver several aspects of the waste strategy for England 2007, including a core remit to develop markets for recycled materials, including plastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate.

I thank the Minister for her reply, but what would she say to businesses in my constituency such as Highland Spring that want to use recycled PET in the bottling process, but find themselves unable to secure a stable enough supply in the marketplace?

I am concerned to hear what my hon. Friend has to say, and we will look into the case of that company. I can tell him, however, that a year ago, local authorities were collecting 3 billion plastic bottles from households and WRAP is working towards increasing that collection level by 30 per cent. Landfill tax rises will encourage more recycling, and WRAP has grant-aided and supported a number of plastic bottle recycling plants, addressing one of our major problems. To give two examples, JFC Runcorn has a PET capacity of 10,000 tonnes per annum, and Closed Loop London has a food-grade PET capacity of 15,000 tonnes per annum. We recognise that there has been a problem; we are taking action to correct it, and WRAP is leading that process for the Government.

Topical Questions

The responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is to enable us all to live within our environmental means. In December, the Government ordered 22.5 million doses of bluetongue vaccine from Intervet to ensure that farmers in England and Wales can protect their livestock. I am pleased to report to the House that the first vaccine was made available yesterday for use in protection zones in England, and 3 million doses of vaccine—1 million in 20-dose bottles and 2 million in 50-dose bottles—are being released for wholesale distribution. Farmers in the protection zone should contact their private vet to purchase vaccine. Batches will be delivered regularly until the end of August and the protection zones will be progressively expanded as the vaccine becomes available. I am confident that the whole industry will give its full support to the vaccination programme.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that explanation. Is he aware that among the ideas being put forward for managing Norfolk’s sea defences is a proposal for managed retreat? That will involve the flooding not of marshlands or wetland but of five villages and thousands of acres of arable land. What do the Government have against Norfolk, one of the most loyal communities in the country? Will he give me an undertaking today that those 5,000 year old settlements will not be submerged under a tidal wave of new Labour complacency?

I say to the hon. Gentleman, as my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment said a moment ago, that I understand entirely the concern generated by the report, but as my hon. Friend made clear in his answer to a previous question, decisions about what we protect and how are taken not by Natural England, but by the Environment Agency, subject to the policy we set out. We are committed to do all that we can to protect communities, which is why we are putting more money in. We all have to recognise, however, that nature is very powerful, and how we manage the transition is a job for all of us to work on together.

I wonder whether my colleagues on the Front Bench are at all nostalgic for the days when we were best when we were boldest? In that regard, are they tempted by the terms of early-day motion 1331, which calls for canoeists in England and Wales to enjoy the same rights of access as they currently enjoy in Scotland, where they co-exist happily with anglers? Will the Secretary of State meet colleagues and me to discuss the issue?

I will be bald—[Laughter.] Slapheads unite.

We want to enable people to have access, but we believe that such arrangements are best agreed on a voluntary basis. I will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss those matters.

I think that the Secretary of State agrees that there is no dispute between us about the science of climate change. Does he believe that the Climate Change Bill should retain its principal aim of ensuring that we do our bit in this country to help keep the average global temperature below the level beyond which, scientists say, we are in dangerous territory and exceeding a safety limit?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is no dispute about what the science tells us and what we need to do. The Government have reflected carefully on the amendments that were passed in another place. However, there is some difficulty about the primary purpose clause because, however bold and powerful the legislation that we pass in this Parliament, we cannot legislate for the global temperature increase. We have to reflect on that because we must ensure that our legislation is credible.

That was a disappointing response. If the Bill does not have a primary purpose, it is fundamentally weakened. Does the Secretary of State accept, given that carbon emissions arise across the economy and his direct responsibilities are for only a minority of carbon emissions, that the Prime Minister should take the lead on tackling climate change, not the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? I assume that, at some point, we will have a Prime Minister who is capable of taking a lead on anything.

On the second issue, the danger of following that route is that people will argue that the Prime Minister should have all the responsibility in every bit of legislation. The Government’s commitment is in no doubt. I disagree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s second question that the Bill’s primary purpose is not clear. It is crystal clear. It is to ensure that the United Kingdom reduces its emissions by at least 60 per cent. by 2050. The figure might be 80 per cent. because, as he knows, the climate change committee is being asked to advise on that point. However, whether we achieve the global limit on the increase in temperature is also down to what other countries do.

T2. My right hon. Friend knows that the Marine Bill reserves planning powers for between 12 and 200 miles offshore. However, some offshore wind farms will be either side of the 12-mile mark. Will he assure me that there will be a co-ordinated approach to wind farms and that we will not experience the problems that we had with planning in the case of nuclear, whereby Scotland goes one way and the rest of the country goes the other? (202778)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. We published the draft Marine Bill, which is the first of its type anywhere in the world. It is published on the existing settlement of 12 to 200 nautical miles within the UK. Licensing for energy stays with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, though the new marine management organisation will provide information, especially when we look to locate important marine conservation zones.

May I begin by thanking the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), for meeting me last week to discuss the problems on Longstone Edge? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that several hon. Members have written to me about the subject and keenly await the decisions that he and the Department for Communities and Local Government have to make in the next few months? Can he say anything further?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members who have raised that important issue, which is a source of concern to us all. As he knows, the Department for Communities and Local Government and the national park authority are seeking leave to appeal against the recent judgment. As he knows from our conversation, I am keen to find a permanent solution to the despoliation of one of the most beautiful parts of our countryside. The Under-Secretary, who has done a lot of work on the matter, and I commit to continue working with the right hon. Gentleman, other hon. Members, the national park authority and local people.

T4. As energy bills escalate, the number of families pulled into fuel poverty balloons. It is unfortunate that they are expected to pay a top-up charge for Warm Front insulation. What work is being done with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to identify and target those fuel poor families? Surely that is the only way forward. The Department for Work and Pensions should not be allowed to hide behind the portmanteau excuse of data protection. (202780)

I am very grateful indeed to my hon. Friend for raising that point. Last week we had an important meeting of around 50 organisations and agencies to address the position of those who, for reasons of fuel prices or fear of not being able to pay their bills, face difficult times. Our plans for this winter are being put in place now, so that we can address the issue. We have got the fuel poverty figures down substantially, which, with rising bills, is even more important—God forbid that we should have a severe winter, because then we would face real difficulties. It is right to raise those issues now, in the spring, in advance of the winter.

T3. Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) raised with the Prime Minister the fact that the cost of a fishing licence for a disabled angler has increased by 37 per cent. in the past year. The Prime Minister undertook to find out the reasons for that. I wonder whether the Minister could furnish them to the House. (202779)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The licence for people with disabilities has increased by 33 per cent. Licences are a contribution towards ensuring that the fisheries are accessible, so that people can enjoy this wonderful sport. The Environment Agency has told me that a substantial amount of that money will go towards ensuring more access for people with disabilities. Someone without a disability has access to all the rivers and banks; someone with a disability does not. I have told the Environment Agency that it needs to use a substantial amount of that money to improve the opportunities for people with disabilities to enjoy the wonderful sport of fishing, and I will hold it to that.

T5. The Secretary of State will be aware of the importance of carbon capture and storage as one of the tools to deal with climate change. However, he will also be aware that Mr. Michael Jacobs, one of the Prime Minister’s advisers on the subject, recently advised a conference in London that Government support for a pilot project would be restricted to some tens of millions of pounds, against capital costs in excess of £1 billion. Not surprisingly, the industry has expressed concern at that. Will the Secretary of State give me an assurance that he will ensure that Government support for carbon capture and storage is pitched at the right level, to ensure, once and for all, that a project gets under way in the United Kingdom? (202781)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. Our policy is to encourage the development of carbon capture and storage. It is extremely important to have a demonstration project showing that the technology works not only for the United Kingdom, but for the whole world’s energy transformation. Our policy is to argue for the inclusion of CCS credits in the European trading scheme as an important policy tool. Indeed, I met the company concerned in the United Kingdom only last week.

T8. I congratulate the Government on leading calls for an EU-wide ban on the trade in seal products. However, there is some concern that the ban may apply only to hunts that cannot be proven to have been conducted humanely. Can the Minister confirm that the UK Government support a total and unconditional ban? (202785)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can confirm that we want a total ban on sealskin products from harp and hooded seals of any age. The Government’s position on seal hunting has been clear for a long time—we want that ban enforced. We operate within a single market in the European Union, which is why it is essential that we have a ban right across the EU. A decision is imminent. We will be writing to the Commission to reinforce our point further and to seek to persuade the other member states.

T6. Yet again I rise on behalf of the pigeon fanciers of Croydon. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] For some time, as a result of the avian flu outbreak, there has been a ban on international pigeon racing in which birds are liberated on the continent. That is causing serious problems in the pigeon racing industry. Given that the poultry industry was given financial compensation as a result of the avian flu outbreak, will the Secretary of State at least review the regulations and give that noble sport the recognition that it deserves? (202782)

May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I share his appreciation of those who pursue the sport? I had the opportunity to meet representatives of the sector only last week. On the question of compensation, I have to be straight: there is no prospect of the Government paying compensation in those circumstances, and it has never been the practice of any Government to do so. However, I listened carefully to the concerns that were expressed about the impact of the restrictions that we have to put in place when there are avian flu outbreaks. I was able to reassure the representatives whom I met that we intend to undertake a new veterinary risk assessment in the light of our developing understanding of what the risks are. That risk assessment will consider whether the restrictions that we apply to pigeon racing can be changed in any way. I promised that I would report back to those representatives.

T7. The Secretary of State might be aware that, last month, a senior civil servant from his Department let the cat out of the bag by revealing that the Department intends to apply to the European Union for permission to delay compliance with its equality rules on nitrogen dioxide in relation to the capital city, London. We know that the Department for Transport wants to move the goalposts in a desperate effort to ensure that the third runway at Heathrow goes ahead, but why does his Department, which is responsible for protecting the environment, want to help it? (202783)

We do, indeed, need to look at how we phase in the new rules, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is not to do with any decisions that might be taken in the future about airport capacity. If one looks at the recent figures for air quality, one will see the improvements that have been gained in this country over several years as a result of domestic and European legislation.

T9. The Secretary of State will be aware that there have been several outbreaks of bluetongue disease in my constituency in the past. I welcome the news that a vaccine is becoming available, but what consequences do the Government think that it will have? Do they think that it will control the spread of the disease? (202786)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. The answer is that it depends on how quickly we can get on with the vaccination programme. That is why the vaccine becoming available earlier than expected has been so widely welcomed. The degree of uptake within the farming industry is a factor. It came to us and said, “We’d like a voluntary programme, but we will give it our utmost support.” The Joint Action against Bluetongue—JAB—campaign is the result of that, and we are backing it to the fullest extent possible. The message is simple: if people wish to protect their animals and the sector, they should vaccinate their animals. The vaccine supplies are now arriving, and that news has been welcomed by many people.

On fuel poverty, the Government have been able to persuade energy suppliers to pay an extra £175 million to tackle that issue, but would not it be a good idea to ask energy producers, whose vast profits I mentioned earlier, to contribute to Government programmes to tackle fuel poverty?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned for many years on the issue, for that suggestion. We believe that we have the right package in place through our energy efficiency measures, which contribute to reducing fuel bills, and direct programmes to address fuel poverty head-on. However, I will reconsider the issue in the light of his point.

May I say to whichever Minister is going to reply that in the county of Cheshire, which I am pleased to say has an abundance of great crested newts, the county council, as the education authority, has had to spend £60,000, at a time of grave financial difficulty, to move just four great crested newts? Is that a sensible way to spend taxpayers’ money? Will the Minister ensure that the EU habitats directive, under which the council is obliged to act in that way, is urgently reviewed?

May I express sympathy with the hon. Gentleman regarding the plight that he considers to have befallen his area? I have to tell him, however, that the habitat regulations make it an offence to capture, injure or kill great crested newts. It is vital that when we consider the preservation of species—

Hold on a moment. Tremendous species loss is occurring globally, and there has been great loss of great crested newts in this country. It is important that we all obey the law.

The habitats directive will not be reviewed in that context, but what has been reviewed—very importantly—is the proportionate approach taken by Natural England. DEFRA and Natural England have reviewed the matter and issued new guidance, which I will share with the hon. Gentleman. However, when he says that a particular sum of money equates to a certain number of great crested newts—it is just four—the truth is that although only those four will have been captured and moved, the moving and preservation of habitats and the way that such action is undertaken will benefit many more of the species than the particular four in question. It is not possible to equate the overall sum of money that is relevant and necessary to the number of newts that are actually moved.